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Legal Brief of Lochner v. New York by David A.W. Hittle Case #2 of 10

Lochner v. New York pg. 100

198 U.S. 45; 25 S.Ct. 539; 49 L.Ed. 937 (1905)

Vote: 5-4


The Facts of the case are these: the plaintiff is charged with in error in violating the labor law of the state of New York; he wrongfully and unlawfully required and permitted an employee working for him to work more than sixty hours in one week… New York law states that no employee shall contract or agree to work, more than ten hours per day…


The Issues of the case are these: 1. Does New York law limiting the number of hours an employee may work violate the 14th amendments right to contract?


The Decision of the court was this: By a vote of 5-4 the Court held that the state law regulating the houses of labor between “the master and his employees” in a private business… cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution.


Justice Peckham opined for the majority in this case: He states that “Under such circumstances the freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment, and in defining the same, cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution.”

Justice Harlam, White and Day concurred dissenting in this case: the justices opine that “it is plain that this statute was enacted in order to protect the physical well-being of those who work in bakery and confectionary establishments.” They continue by stating: “So that, in determining the question of power to interfere with liberty of contract, the court may inquire whether the means devised by the state are germane to an end which may be lawfully accomplished and have a real or substantial relation to the protection of health, as involved in the daily work of the persons, male and female, engaged in bakery and confectionary establishments.” The justices end by stating: “I take leave to say that the New York statute, in the particulars here involved, cannot be held to be in conflict with the 14th Amendment, without enlarging the scope of the amendment far beyond its original purpose, and without brining under the supervision of this court matters which have been supposed to belong exclusively to the legislative departments of the several states… to guard the health and safety of their citizens….


Justice Holmes in his own written opinion dissents: “This case is decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain.” “The 14th Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics…. But a Constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the state or laissez faire.” “I think the word ‘liberty,’ in the 14th Amendment, is perverted when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion, unless it can be said that a rational and fair man necessarily would admit that the statute proposed would infringe fundamental principles as they have been understood by the traditions of our people and our law.”


The significance of this case was that: States alone couldn’t interfere with the hours of work of citizens even if they were in their own borders. We know from history however that the federal government was found to have that right under the “Commerce Clause” of the Constitution.