Coppage v. Kansas

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Coppage v. Kansas
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Submitted October 30, 1914
Decided January 25, 1915
Full case name Coppage v. State of Kansas
Citations 236 U.S. 1 (more)
35 S. Ct. 240; 59 L. Ed. 441; 1915 U.S. LEXIS 1798
It is outside the scope of state police power to prohibit employment contracts that bar workers from joining a union.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Pitney, joined by White, Van Devanter, Lamar, McReynolds, McKenna
Dissent Holmes
Dissent Day, joined by Hughes

Coppage v. Kansas 236 U.S. 1 (1915), was a U.S. Supreme Court case based on US labor law allowing employers to implement contracts that forbid employees from joining unions. These types of contracts were called yellow-dog contracts. The case was decided in the era prior to the American Great Depression when the Supreme Court invalidated laws that imposed restrictions on contracts, especially those of employment. During this time, liberty of contract was viewed as a fundamental right, and therefore, only in extreme circumstances, could this right be abridged. When the fundamental right of freedom of contract was abridged, it violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Coppage -- an employer -- forbade his employees from joining labor unions by making it part of their contract, which the employee signed before being hired. This "no joining unions" section violated a Kansas state law that prohibited these kinds of anti-union contracts.


The majority opinion by Justice Pitney, held that the law prohibiting these contracts violated Coppage's due process rights. The Court ruled it was not the responsibility of the government to ensure equal bargaining power.

He concluded that a state in the exercise of its police power did not have the right to redress imbalances of bargaining power and that requiring a man to give up the right to be in a union as a condition of employment "[does] not to ask him to give up any part of his constitutional freedom."

Justice Holmes's dissent called again for Lochner to be overruled, and stated that there is nothing in the Constitution that specifically prohibits a law like the one Kansas had, and therefore the law should be upheld.

Justice Day's dissent would have affirmed the liberty of contract against arbitrary legislative restraints but deferred more to the legislature on the question of whether this law upheld the public welfare. He also argued, "A man may not barter away his life or his freedom, or his substantial rights," arguing against Pitney's majority that such contracts were in fact coercive and not entered into freely.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Text of Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1 (1915) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia