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Hammer v. Dagenhart

Citation. 247 U.S. 251, 38 S. Ct. 529, 62 L. Ed. 1101 (1918)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A father brought a suit on behalf of his two minor sons, seeking to enjoin enforcement of an act of Congress intended to prevent the interstate shipment of goods produced with child labor.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause cannot undermine the police power left to the States by the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).


Congress passed a law which would prohibit the interstate transportation of manufactured goods produced by a factory, which within thirty days prior had allowed children under age 14 to work or children between the ages of 14 and 16 to work for more than a specified workload. The father of two employed, minor sons – one under 14, and one between 14 and 16 – brought suit as next friend to his sons, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the law as exceeding Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause.


Can Congress control interstate transport in a manner that strongly impinges on the manufacture of goods?


The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) first notes that interstate commerce can necessarily not begin with manufacture. Manufactured goods may be made solely for in state use. It is only with the transportation of the goods that the interstate commerce power begins. To say otherwise would give Congress power to control all manufacture in all states.
The Supreme Court argues that the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution reserves local police authority to the States. To allow Congress to exercise power over local manufacture, would effectively remove that authority which the amendment relegates to local authorities.


Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (J. Holmes) dissenting.
It is largely indisputable that, if considered only for its immediate effects, the act in question is within Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.
As far as secondary effects, the States are still free to regulate manufacture as they please. However, when a State begins to ship manufactured goods across state lines, they are subjecting themselves to the control of Congress. No direct regulation of the States has occurred. J. Holmes notes, “[I]f an act is within the powers specifically conferred upon Congress, it seems to me it is not made any less constitutional because of the indirect effects that it may have, however obvious it may be that it will have those effects, and that we are not at liberty upon such grounds to hold it void.


The dissent’s argument clearly undermines the majority view, and later Commerce Clause cases are in line with the dissent.

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