Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

Lochner v. New York – Power to Contract -14th Amendment

 

Lochner v. New York (1905)

In Lochner v. New York (1905), the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law setting maximum working hours for bakers was unconstitutional. The Court held that the Constitution prohibits states from interfering with most employment contracts because the right to buy and sell labor is a fundamental freedom protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision, and the resulting “Lochner era” it ushered in, led to the abrogation of many progressive era and Great Depression laws regulating working conditions. In 1937, the Supreme Court overturned Lochner in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish.

In 1897, the state of New York passed the Bakeshop Act — a so-called “labor law” — one section of which provided that “no employee shall be … permitted to work in a biscuit, bread, or cake bakery or confectionery establishment more than sixty hours in any one week.” Joseph Lochner, who owned Lochner’s Home Bakery in Utica, was fined $50 for allowing an employee to work more than 60 hours in a week. Lochner was sentenced to incarceration in a county jail until he paid the fine or, if he didn’t pay, for 50 days. Lochner appealed his conviction up to the New York Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest court), which affirmed his sentence. Claiming the labor law was unconstitutional, Lochner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Rufus Peckham, held that the act was unconstitutional and that the conviction of Lochner must be reversed. The Court construed the law as an absolute interference “with the right of contract between the employer and employees,” then declared that “the general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.” The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. To the Court, the right to buy and sell labor through contract was a “liberty of the individual” protected under the amendment.

The Court admitted that while, in certain circumstances, the states may legitimately regulate certain contracts through their police powers, the baking industry, unlike the mining industry, was not an “unhealthy trade” and therefore was not legally subject to regulation. The Court held that act was “an unreasonable, unnecessary, and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty,” and irrationally limited freedoms “necessary for the support” of workers and their families. “The freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment … cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution.” In other words, the right to contract employment terms is generally protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state interference.

Lochner v. New York, controversial from the time it was decided, rendered the judiciary a consistent adversary to legislatures for more than 30 years. Time and time again, the Supreme Court struck down laws regulating labor conditions, construing them as repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. In the 1937 case West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, however, the Court reversed itself and began permitting some regulation of the labor market (although it did not, at that point, formally overturn Lochner). Today, the Court holds that states may freely regulate terms of employment without violating the Fourteenth Amendment so long as such regulation is rational and procedurally fair.

Though eventually formally struck down, Lochner’s finding that “substantive,” not just “procedural,” rights are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment is still very much alive today. “Substantive” due process limits the type of activities a state may regulate, whereas “procedural” due process limits the means by which a state may regulate. While the Court now holds that the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide substantive due process in the economic sphere (such as a right to freely contract labor), it now holds that the amendment sometimes provides “substantive” due process in the social sphere (such as the right to freely use contraceptives — see, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut [1965]).

cited https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/supremecourt/capitalism/landmark_lochner.html

 


Please feel Free to read the excellent pamphlet to help you secure your RIGHT to contracts!

FREEDOM OF CONTRACT by David E. Bernstein, George Mason University School of Law

 

and here is the Amendment to OUR US LAW that GRANTS YOU THESE RIGHTS 

Overview of Contract Clause


U.S. Supreme Court

Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905)

Lochner v. New York

No. 292

Argued February 23, 24, 1905

Decided April 17, 1906

198 U.S. 45

 

Syllabus

The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and this includes the right to purchase and sell labor, except as controlled by the State in the legitimate exercise of its police power.

Liberty of contract relating to labor includes both parties to it; the one has as much right to purchase as the other to sell labor.

There is no reasonable ground, on the score of health, for interfering with the liberty of the person or the right of free contract, by determining the hours of labor, in the occupation of a baker. Nor can a law limiting such hours be justified a a health law to safeguard the public health, or the health of the individuals following that occupation.

Section 110 of the labor law of the State of New York, providing that no employes shall be required or permitted to work in bakeries more than sixty hours in a week, or ten hours a day, is not a legitimate exercise of the police power of the State, but an unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract in relation to labor, and, as such, it is in conflict with, and void under, the Federal Constitution.

This is a writ of error to the County Court of Oneida County, in the State of New York (to which court the record had been remitted), to review the judgment of the Court of Appeal of that State affirming the judgment of the Supreme Court, which itself affirmed the judgment of the County Court, convicting the defendant of a misdemeanor on an indictment under a statute of that State, known, by its short title, as the labor

Page 198 U. S. 46

law. The section of the statute under which the indictment was found is section 110, and is reproduced in the margin, * (together with the other sections of the labor law upon the subject of bakeries, being sections 111 to 115, both inclusive). The indictment averred that the defendant

“wrongfully and unlawfully required and permitted an employee working for him in his biscuit, bread and cake bakery and confectionery establishment, at the city of Utica, in this county, to work more than sixty hours in one week,”

after having been theretofore convicted of a violation of the same act, and therefore, as averred, he committed the crime or misdemeanor, second offense. The plaintiff in error demurred to the indictment on several grounds, one of which was that the facts stated did not

Page 198 U. S. 47

constitute a crime. The demurrer was overruled, and the plaintiff in error having refused to plead further, a plea of not guilty was entered by order of the court and the trial commenced, and he was convicted of misdemeanor, second offense, as indicted, and sentenced to pay a fine of $50 and to stand committed until paid, not to exceed fifty days in the Oneida County jail. A certificate of reasonable doubt was granted by the county judge of Oneida County, whereon an appeal was taken to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Fourth Department, where the judgment of conviction was affirmed. 73 App.Div.N.Y. 120. A further appeal was then taken to the Court of Appeals, where the judgment of conviction was again affirmed. 177 N.Y. 145.

Page 198 U. S. 52

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/198/45/

 

Lochner v. New York (1905)

In Lochner v. New York (1905), the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law setting maximum working hours for bakers was unconstitutional. The Court held that the Constitution prohibits states from interfering with most employment contracts because the right to buy and sell labor is a fundamental freedom protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision, and the resulting “Lochner era” it ushered in, led to the abrogation of many progressive era and Great Depression laws regulating working conditions. In 1937, the Supreme Court overturned Lochner in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish.

In 1897, the state of New York passed the Bakeshop Act — a so-called “labor law” — one section of which provided that “no employee shall be … permitted to work in a biscuit, bread, or cake bakery or confectionery establishment more than sixty hours in any one week.” Joseph Lochner, who owned Lochner’s Home Bakery in Utica, was fined $50 for allowing an employee to work more than 60 hours in a week. Lochner was sentenced to incarceration in a county jail until he paid the fine or, if he didn’t pay, for 50 days. Lochner appealed his conviction up to the New York Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest court), which affirmed his sentence. Claiming the labor law was unconstitutional, Lochner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Rufus Peckham, held that the act was unconstitutional and that the conviction of Lochner must be reversed. The Court construed the law as an absolute interference “with the right of contract between the employer and employees,” then declared that “the general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.” The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. To the Court, the right to buy and sell labor through contract was a “liberty of the individual” protected under the amendment.

The Court admitted that while, in certain circumstances, the states may legitimately regulate certain contracts through their police powers, the baking industry, unlike the mining industry, was not an “unhealthy trade” and therefore was not legally subject to regulation. The Court held that act was “an unreasonable, unnecessary, and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty,” and irrationally limited freedoms “necessary for the support” of workers and their families. “The freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment … cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution.” In other words, the right to contract employment terms is generally protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state interference.

Lochner v. New York, controversial from the time it was decided, rendered the judiciary a consistent adversary to legislatures for more than 30 years. Time and time again, the Supreme Court struck down laws regulating labor conditions, construing them as repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. In the 1937 case West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, however, the Court reversed itself and began permitting some regulation of the labor market (although it did not, at that point, formally overturn Lochner). Today, the Court holds that states may freely regulate terms of employment without violating the Fourteenth Amendment so long as such regulation is rational and procedurally fair.

Though eventually formally struck down, Lochner’s finding that “substantive,” not just “procedural,” rights are protected under the Fourteenth Amendment is still very much alive today. “Substantive” due process limits the type of activities a state may regulate, whereas “procedural” due process limits the means by which a state may regulate. While the Court now holds that the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide substantive due process in the economic sphere (such as a right to freely contract labor), it now holds that the amendment sometimes provides “substantivedue process in the social sphere (such as the right to freely use contraceptives — see, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut [1965]).