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

  • New York passed a Statute (The Bakeshop Act) that set the maximum number of hours a person could work in a week.
    • New York felt that this was a permissible exercise of their police powers.
  • Lochner was twice convicted of overworking his employees. He appealed.
    • Lochner argued that the Bakeshop Act was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process.
      • Specifically, Lochner argued that the law violated substantive due process because it was outside the scope of things the government should be regulating.
        • Procedural Due Process refers to the procedures the government must follow when it takes away a person’s life, liberty or property.
        • Substantive Due Process asks whether the government has an adequate reason for taking away a person’s life, liberty or property.
      • Lochner argued that the Constitution included a right to contract (Article I §10), so New York couldn’t make a law that interfered with that right.
  • The US Supreme Court found for Lochner and struck down the Statute.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the law was not a legitimate exercise of New York’s police powers.
    • New York argued that the State had a right to safeguard their citizens from being overworked to the point of unhealth, but the Court found that the citizens were able to decide how much work they could handle by themselves, and that a little overworking never hurt anybody, so the New York law was not related “in any real and substantial degree to the health of the employees.”
  • In a dissent, it was argued that there are all sorts of laws that interfere with business (e.g. no selling of liquor on Sundays, no usury, etc.), and that this ruling was based more on the Justice’s pro-business leanings than on constitutional interpretation.
  • This case became famous for establishing three concepts that remained true until the reforms of the New Deal era of the 1930s:
    • Freedom of Contract is a right protected by the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment and 14th Amendment.
    • The government can interfere with freedom of contract only to serve a valid police purpose of protecting public health, public safety or public morals.
    • The judiciary would carefully scrutinize legislation to ensure that it only served a police purpose.
  • This case was repudiated by the reforms of the New Deal.
    • Since then, pure labor laws, ones that don’t directly relate to public health, safety, or morals have been generally presumed to be valid exercises of a State’s police powers.
      • That’s a complete reversal of the logic in this case.