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Coppage v. Kansas

Citation. 236 U.S. 1, 35 S. Ct. 240, 59 L. Ed. 441, 1915 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Coppage (Petitioner), was found guilty of violating the Kansas state law that prohibited employers from asking employees not to join or remain a member of a labor union as a condition of employment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

States are prohibited from the arbitrary interference with a person’s freedom to contract because of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).


In 1903, the Kansas legislature passed an act designed to encourage the unionization of employees. The act prohibited employers from making jobs conditioned upon an employee’s refusal to join or continue to participate in a union.


Can a state prevent an employer from making employment conditioned upon an individual’s status as a union member?


No. Employment relations are the same as a contractual arrangement. Both contracting parties have the right to terminate the employment ‘at-will’ for any reason. At the onset, the employee has the choice to refuse employment if union membership is more valued than the position offered.


The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) indicates that the decision of a person to accept employment, while refraining from joining a union is not infringing upon any freedom. Both the employer and employee are free to choose how their relationship will be defined.

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