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Lochner v. New York

Citation. 198 U.S. 45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937; 1905 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Lochner (Petitioner), was convicted of a misdemeanor for violating the New York state statute that limited the number of hours a baker could work in a bakery.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A state may interfere with a person’s right to contract for his labor, only if such interference is reasonably related to a legitimate purpose such as the protection of public health, safety or welfare.


New York passed a statute that limited the number of hours a baker could work to no more than 60 per week, or 10 hours per day. Petitioner worked more than the stipulated amount and was convicted of a misdemeanor.


Is the state’s interference with a baker’s right to make a living by limiting the number of hours worked in a week or day a fair, reasonable, and appropriate exercise of its police power?


No. There is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty of person or right to contract, by determining the hours a baker can work.
The right to purchase or sell labor is part of the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Baker’s are persons capable of entering into and making contracts for the sale of their labor and skills.
The law as it was passed is not within the police power of the state because it does not relate to the public health or the health of bakers.


Both dissents see the statute as an appropriate exercise of the state’s police power, designed to protect the health of the delicate manufacturing baker.
Justice Oliver Holmes (J. Holmes) disagrees with the broad definition of “liberty.” He sees this statute as the beginnings of labor laws meant to protect the health of the worker by prohibiting excessively long workweeks.
Justice John Harlan (J. Harlan), Justice Byron White (J. White), and Justice Day (J. Day) felt that the right to contract may be infringed upon for the purpose of protecting a person’s health. The baker is described as a fragile worker who is susceptible to more health ailments because of his unusual working conditions and habits.


The majority characterizes the statute as an interference with a person’s right to contract and earn a living. The idea that a baker is an occupation that puts the public at risk is dismissed as a simple notion. The position is compared to those who work in a steel foundry and coal mine. Clearly, those workers are put in and put others in danger when extremely fatigued.

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