Lochner v. New York
|Lochner v. New York|
|Argued February 23–24, 1905
Decided April 17, 1905
|Full case name||Joseph Lochner, Plaintiff in Error v. People of the State of New York|
|Citations||198 U.S. 45 (more)
25 S. Ct. 539; 49 L. Ed. 937; 1905 U.S. LEXIS 1153
|Prior history||Defendant convicted, Oneida County Court, New York, February 12, 1902; affirmed, 76 N.Y.S. 396 (N.Y. App. Div. 1902); affirmed, 69 N.E. 373 (N.Y. 1904)|
|New York's regulation of the working hours of bakers was not a justifiable restriction on the right to contract freely under the 14th Amendment's guarantee of liberty.|
|Majority||Peckham, joined by Fuller, Brewer, Brown, McKenna|
|Dissent||Harlan, joined by White, Day|
|U.S. Const. amend. XIV; 1897 N.Y. Laws art. 8, ch. 415, § 110|
Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that held that "liberty of contract" was implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case involved a New York law that limited the number of hours that a baker could work each day to ten, and limited the number of hours that a baker could work each week to 60. By a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the law was necessary to protect the health of bakers, deciding it was a labor law attempting to regulate the terms of employment, and calling it an "unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract."
Lochner is one of the most controversial decisions in the Supreme Court's history, giving its name to what is known as the Lochner era. In the Lochner era, the Supreme Court issued several controversial decisions invalidating federal and state statutes that sought to regulate working conditions during the Progressive Era and the Great Depression.
During the quarter-century that followed Lochner, the Supreme Court also began to use the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect rights like freedom of speech and the right to send one's child to private school (which was the beginning of the line of cases that found a right to privacy in the Constitution). The Lochner era ended with West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937), in which the Supreme Court took an expansive view of the government's power to regulate commercial activities.
In 1895, the New York Legislature unanimously enacted the Bakeshop Act, which regulated sanitary conditions in bakeries and also prohibited individuals from working in bakeries for more than ten hours per day or sixty hours per week.
In 1899, Joseph Lochner, owner of Lochner's Home Bakery in Utica, was indicted on a charge that he violated the Section 110 of Article 8, Chapter 415, of the Laws of 1897, in that he wrongfully and unlawfully permitted an employee working for him to work more than sixty hours in one week. Lochner was fined $25. For a second offense in 1901, Lochner drew a fine of $50 from the Oneida County Court.
Lochner chose to appeal his second conviction. However, the conviction was upheld by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in a 3–2 vote. Lochner appealed again to the New York Court of Appeals, where he lost by a 4-3 margin. After his defeat in the Court of Appeals (New York's highest court), Lochner took his case to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Lochner's appeal was based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides: "... nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." In a series of cases starting with Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the Supreme Court established that the Due Process Clause (found in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments) is not merely a procedural guarantee, but also a substantive limitation on the type of control the government may exercise over individuals. Although this interpretation of the Due Process Clause is a controversial one (see substantive due process), it had become firmly embedded in American jurisprudence by the end of the 19th century. Lochner argued that the right to freely contract was one of the rights encompassed by substantive due process.
Scholars have noted that when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868, 27 out of 37 state constitutions had Lockean Provisos, which typically said: "All men are by nature free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring and possessing and protecting property: and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness." As such clauses were "deeply rooted in American history and tradition," they likely informed the original meaning of the scope and nature of the fundamental rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment in the eyes of Lochner-era justices.
The Supreme Court had accepted the argument that the due process clause protected the right to contract seven years earlier, in Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897). However, the Court had acknowledged that the right was not absolute, but subject to the "police power" of the states. For example, in Holden v. Hardy (1898), the Supreme Court upheld a Utah law setting an eight-hour work day for miners. In Holden, Justice Henry Brown wrote that while "the police power cannot be put forward as an excuse for oppressive and unjust legislation, it may be lawfully resorted to for the purpose of preserving the public health, safety, or morals." The issue facing the Supreme Court in Lochner v. New York was whether the Bakeshop Act represented a reasonable exercise of the state's police power.
Lochner's case was argued by Henry Weismann (who had been one of the foremost advocates of the Bakeshop Act when he was Secretary of the Journeymen Bakers' Union). In his brief, Weismann decried the idea that "the treasured freedom of the individual ... should be swept away under the guise of the police power of the State." He denied New York's argument that the Bakeshop Act was a necessary health measure, claiming that the "average bakery of the present day is well ventilated, comfortable both summer and winter, and always sweet smelling." Weismann's brief contained an appendix providing statistics showing that bakers' mortality rates were comparable to that of white collar professionals.
The Supreme Court, by a vote of 5–4, ruled that the law limiting bakers' working hours did not constitute a legitimate exercise of state police powers, and it was unconstitutional, using an argument that people should have freedom of contract, and that unequal bargaining power was irrelevant. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Justice Rufus Peckham.
The question whether this act is valid as a labor law, pure and simple, may be dismissed in a few words. There is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty of person or the right of free contract by determining the hours of labor in the occupation of a baker. There is no contention that bakers as a class are not equal in intelligence and capacity to men in other trades or manual occupations, or that they are able to assert their rights and care for themselves without the protecting arm of the State, interfering with their independence of judgment and of action. They are in no sense wards of the State. Viewed in the light of a purely labor law, with no reference whatever to the question of health, we think that a law like the one before us involves neither the safety, the morals, nor the welfare of the public, and that the interest of the public is not in the slightest degree affected by such an act. The law must be upheld, if at all, as a law pertaining to the health of the individual engaged in the occupation of a baker. It does not affect any other portion of the public than those who are engaged in that occupation. Clean and wholesome bread does not depend upon whether the baker works but ten hours per day or only sixty hours a week. The limitation of the hours of labor does not come within the police power on that ground.
It is a question of which of two powers or rights shall prevail -- the power of the State to legislate or the right of the individual to liberty of person and freedom of contract. The mere assertion that the subject relates though but in a remote degree to the public health does not necessarily render the enactment valid. The act must have a more direct relation, as a means to an end, and the end itself must be appropriate and legitimate, before an act can be held to be valid which interferes with the general right of an individual to be free in his person and in his power to contract in relation to his own labor.
This case has caused much diversity of opinion in the state courts. In the Supreme Court, two of the five judges composing the Appellate Division dissented from the judgment affirming the validity of the act. In the Court of Appeals, three of the seven judges also dissented from the judgment upholding the statute. Although found in what is called a labor law of the State, the Court of Appeals has upheld the act as one relating to the public health -- in other words, as a health law. One of the judges of the Court of Appeals, in upholding the law, stated that, in his opinion, the regulation in question could not be sustained unless they were able to say, from common knowledge, that working in a bakery and candy factory was an unhealthy employment. The judge held that, while the evidence was not uniform, it still led him to the conclusion that the occupation of a baker or confectioner was unhealthy, and tended to result in diseases of the respiratory organs. Three of the judges dissented from that view, and they thought the occupation of a baker was not to such an extent unhealthy as to warrant the interference of the legislature with the liberty of the individual.
We think the limit of the police power has been reached and passed in this case. There is, in our judgment, no reasonable foundation for holding this to be necessary or appropriate as a health law to safeguard the public health or the health of the individuals who are following the trade of a baker. If this statute be valid, and if, therefore, a proper case is made out in which to deny the right of an individual, sui juris, as employer or employee, to make contracts for the labor of the latter under the protection of the provisions of the Federal Constitution, there would seem to be no length to which legislation of this nature might not go. The case differs widely, as we have already stated, from the expressions of this court in regard to laws of this nature, as stated in Holden v. Hardy and Jacobson v. Massachusetts, supra.
We think that there can be no fair doubt that the trade of a baker, in and of itself, is not an unhealthy one to that degree which would authorize the legislature to interfere with the right to labor, and with the right of free contract on the part of the individual, either as employer or employee. In looking through statistics regarding all trades and occupations, it may be true that the trade of a baker does not appear to be as healthy as some other trades, and is also vastly more healthy than still others. To the common understanding, the trade of a baker has never been regarded as an unhealthy one. Very likely, physicians would not recommend the exercise of that or of any other trade as a remedy for ill health. Some occupations are more healthy than others, but we think there are none which might not come under the power of the legislature to supervise and control the hours of working therein if the mere fact that the occupation is not absolutely and perfectly healthy is to confer that right upon the legislative department of the Government. It might be safely affirmed that almost all occupations more or less affect the health. There must be more than the mere fact of the possible existence of some small amount of unhealthiness to warrant legislative interference with liberty. It is unfortunately true that labor, even in any department, may possibly carry with it the seeds of unhealthiness. But are we all, on that account, at the mercy of legislative majorities? A printer, a tinsmith, a locksmith, a carpenter, a cabinetmaker, a dry goods clerk, a bank's, a lawyer's or a physician's clerk, or a clerk in almost any kind of business, would all come under the power of the legislature on this assumption. No trade, no occupation, no mode of earning one's living could escape this all-pervading power, and the acts of the legislature in limiting the hours of labor in all employments would be valid although such limitation might seriously cripple the ability of the laborer to support himself and his family. In our large cities there are many buildings into which the sun penetrates for but a short time in each day, and these buildings are occupied by people carrying on the business of bankers, brokers, lawyers, real estate, and many other kinds of business, aided by many clerks, messengers, and other employs. Upon the assumption of the validity of this act under review, it is not possible to say that an act prohibiting lawyers' or bank clerks, or others from contracting to labor for their employers more than eight hours a day would be invalid. It might be said that it is unhealthy to work more than that number of hours in an apartment lighted by artificial light during the working hours of the day; that the occupation of the bank clerk, the lawyer's clerk, the real estate clerk, or the broker's clerk in such offices is therefore unhealthy, and the legislature, in its paternal wisdom, must therefore have the right to legislate on the subject of, and to limit the hours for, such labor, and, if it exercises that power and its validity be questioned, it is sufficient to say it has reference to the public health; it has reference to the health of the employees condemned to labor day after day in buildings where the sun never shines; it is a health law, and therefore it is valid, and cannot be questioned by the courts.
Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices White and Day. Justice Harlan contended that the liberty to contract is subject to regulation imposed by a state acting within the scope of its police powers. Justice Harlan offered the following rule for determining whether such statutes are unconstitutional:
|“||The power of the courts to review legislative action in respect of a matter affecting the general welfare exists only "when that which the legislature has done comes within the rule that, if a statute purporting to have been enacted to protect the public health, the public morals or the public safety, has no real or substantial relation to those objects, or is, beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law."||”|
Justice Harlan asserted that the burden of proof should rest with the party seeking to have such a statute deemed unconstitutional.
Justice Harlan's dissent argued that the Court gave insufficient weight to the state's argument that the law was a valid health measure addressing a legitimate state interest. Justice Harlan contended that it was "plain that this statute was enacted to protect the physical well-being of those who work in bakery and confectionery establishments." Responding to the majority's assertion that the profession of a baker was not an unhealthy one, he quoted at length from academic studies describing the respiratory ailments and other risks that bakers faced. He argued that the Supreme Court should have deferred to the New York Legislature's judgment that long working hours threatened the health of bakery employees. According to Harlan, "If the end which the legislature seeks to accomplish be one to which its power extends, and if the means employed to that end, although not the wisest or best, are yet not plainly and palpably unauthorized by law, then the court cannot interfere."
Another dissenting opinion was penned by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.. Although only three paragraphs long, Holmes' dissent is well remembered and often quoted. Holmes accused the majority of judicial activism, pointedly claiming that the case was "decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain." He attacked the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment enshrined the liberty of contract, citing laws against Sunday trading and usury as "ancient examples" to the contrary. Justice Holmes wrote: "[t]he Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics." This was a reference to a book in which Spencer advocated a strict laissez faire philosophy. With reference to the economic regulations at issue, Holmes wrote, "Some of these laws embody convictions or prejudices which judges are likely to share. Some may not. But a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory."
Significance and legacy
The Supreme Court's due process jurisprudence over the next three decades was inconsistent, but it took a narrow view of states' police powers in several major labor cases after Lochner. For example, in Coppage v. Kansas (1915), the Court struck down statutes forbidding "Yellow Dog contracts." Similarly, in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923), the Supreme Court held that minimum wage laws violated the due process clause (although Chief Justice William Howard Taft strongly dissented, suggesting that the Court instead should have overruled Lochner). The doctrine of substantive due process was coupled with a narrow interpretation of congressional power under the commerce clause. Justices James McReynolds, George Sutherland, Willis Van Devanter, and Pierce Butler emerged during the 1920s and 1930s as the foremost defenders of traditional limitations on government power on the Supreme Court; they were collectively dubbed by partisans of the New Deal the "Four Horsemen of Reaction" as a result. All of this was esconced in a theory of Laissez faire economics.
In 1934, the Supreme Court decided Nebbia v. New York stating that there is no constitutionally protected fundamental right to freedom of contract. In 1937, the Supreme Court decided West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, which expressly overruled Adkins and implicitly signaled the end of the Lochner era. The decision repudiated the idea that freedom of contract should be unrestricted:
|“||The legislature has also recognized the fact, which the experience of legislators in many States has corroborated, that the proprietors of these establishments and their operatives do not stand upon an equality, and that their interests are, to a certain extent, conflicting. The former naturally desire to obtain as much labor as possible from their employees, while the latter are often induced by the fear of discharge to conform to regulations which their judgment, fairly exercised, would pronounce to be detrimental to their health or strength. In other words, the proprietors lay down the rules and the laborers are practically constrained to obey them. In such cases, self-interest is often an unsafe guide, and the legislature may properly interpose its authority.||”|
Although the Supreme Court did not explicitly overrule Lochner, it did agree to give more deference to the decisions of state legislatures. The Court sounded the death knell for economic substantive due process several years later in Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma (1955). In that case, a unanimous Supreme Court declared: "The day is gone when this Court uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought."
Coming at a time of mounting political pressure over the judiciary's stance toward the New Deal, the Court's shift is sometimes called “The switch in time that saved nine.”
Modern substantive due process
In the post-Lochner era, the Supreme Court has applied a lower standard of review (rational basis test) when confronting restrictions on economic liberty, but a higher standard in reviewing legislation impinging on personal liberties, especially the right to privacy. A line of cases dating back to the 1923 opinion by Justice McReynolds in Meyer v. Nebraska (citing Lochner as establishing limits on the police power) has established a privacy right under substantive due process. More recently, in Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court held that women have a privacy right to determine whether or not to have an abortion. In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey reaffirmed that right, though the Court no longer used the term "privacy" to describe it.
The Supreme Court's decision in Lochner v. New York has been criticized by legal scholars. Law professor Bernard Siegan described it as "one of the most condemned cases in United States history."  According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, law professors often use Lochner, along with Plessy v. Ferguson and Korematsu v. United States, as examples of "how judges should not behave."
Lochner is sometimes used as shorthand for extreme right wing constitutional theory. However, it has come under harsh criticism from conservative and libertarian jurists as well, due to the Lochner Court's embrace of substantive due process, a doctrine at odds with the original understanding of the Constitution. For example, conservative legal scholar Robert Bork called the decision an "abomination" and the "quintessence of judicial usurpation of power." Similarly, former Attorney General Edwin Meese said that the Supreme Court "ignored the limitations of the Constitution and blatantly usurped legislative authority." Siegan, a self-described libertarian, described it as "a symbol of judicial dereliction and abuse."
However, the decision also has attracted defenders, including the libertarian Cato Institute, and scholars Richard Epstein and Randy Barnett, who argue that Lochner was correct in its protection of economic liberty. Randy Barnett has argued that Lochner's presumption in favor of liberty of contract was basically right; the decision was wrong only insofar as it perpetuated the misinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment established in the Slaughter-House Cases. According to Barnett, liberty of contract is properly found in the Privileges or Immunities Clause, not in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. David Bernstein, in Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform, argues that the decision in Lochner was well-grounded in Supreme Court precedent and that the decision's emphasis on limits to the states' police powers informed the Court's early civil liberties and civil rights cases.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
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