Muller v. Oregon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Muller v. Oregon
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 15, 1908
Decided February 24, 1908
Full case name Curt Muller, Plaintiff in Error v. The State of Oregon. Appellant's claim: Oregon's 1903 maximum hours law is unconstitutional.
Citations 208 U.S. 412 (more)
28 S. Ct. 324;52 L. Ed. 551;1908 U.S. LEXIS 1452
Prior history Defendant convicted; affirmed, 85 P. 855 (Or. 1906)
Subsequent history None
Oregon's limit on the working hours of women was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, because it was justified by the strong state interest in protecting women's health. Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Brewer, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV; 1903 Or. Laws p. 148

Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908), was a landmark decision in United States Supreme Court history, as it justifies both sex discrimination and usage of labor laws during the time period. The case upheld Oregon state restrictions on the working hours of women as justified by the special state interest in protecting women's health. The ruling had important implications for protective labor legislation.[1] The case was decided a mere three years after Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), in which a New York law restricting the weekly working hours of bakers was invalidated.


Curt Muller, the owner of a laundry business, was convicted of violating Oregon labor laws by making a female employee work more than ten hours in a single day. Muller was fined $10. Muller appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which upheld the constitutionality of the labor law and affirmed his conviction.


In Justice David Josiah Brewer's unanimous opinion in Muller, the Court upheld the Oregon regulation. The Court did not overrule Lochner, but instead distinguished it on the basis of "the difference between the sexes." The child-bearing physiology and social role of women provided a strong state interest in reducing their working hours.

Future Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis, as additional counsel for the State of Oregon, filed a voluminous brief in support of the Oregon law that collected empirical data from hundreds of sources. In what became known as the "Brandeis Brief", the report provided social authorities on the issue of the impact of long working hours on women. This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations.

Significance of the case[edit]

Though with the state winning in shorter hours for women, and the popular progressives being happy with the outcome, equal-rights feminists were against this because it worked so heavily on the separation of the sexes into two stereotyped gender-roles and restricted women's financial independence.This labor law gave white women more protection, but it excluded women of color, food processors, agricultural workers, and white collar educated women. The governmental interest in public welfare outweighed the freedom of contract that is displayed in the 14th Amendment and the effects of Muller v. Oregon did not change until the New Deal days in the 1930s. It was also a watershed in the development of maternalist reforms.[2][3][4][5]

The ruling was criticized because it set a precedent to use sex differences, and in particular women's child-bearing capacity, as a basis for separate legislation, supporting the idea that the family has priority over women's rights as workers.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Baron, Ava (1981). "Protective Labor Legislation and the Cult of Domesticity". Journal of Family Issues (SAGE Publications) 2 (1): 25–38. doi:10.1177/0192513X8100200103. 
  2. ^ Brandeis, L. D. (1907). The Brandeis Brief. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from
  3. ^ Woloch, N. (1996). Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press.
  4. ^ Barney, S. L. (1999). Maternalism and the Promotion of Scientific Medicine during the Industrial Transformation of Appalachia, 1880-1930. NWSA Journal, 11(3), 68-92.
  5. ^ Koven, S., & Michel, S. (1993). Mothers of a New World, Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (). Routledge.

Further reading[edit]

  • Becker, Mary E. (1986). "From Muller v. Oregon to Fetal Vulnerability Policies". University of Chicago Law Review (The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 4) 53 (4): 1219–1273. doi:10.2307/1599748. JSTOR 1599748. 
  • Bernstein, David E. (2011). Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform. Chapter 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-04353-3
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). Supreme Court Decisions and Women's Rights: Milestone to Equality. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. pp. 17–18. ISBN 1-56802-614-5. 
  • Woloch, Nancy (1996). Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-12816-9. 

External links[edit]