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Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. An Oklahoma law prohibited any person that is not a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist from fitting lenses to a face or to duplicate or replace into frames lenses or other optical appliances.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Court will no longer use the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions because they may be unwise, improvident or out of harmony with a particular school of thought. For protection against abuses by legislatures the people must resort to the polls, not to the courts.

    Facts. An optician that is someone who is qualified to grind lenses, fill prescriptions and fit frames is forbidden from fitting or duplicating lenses without a prescription from an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in the care of the eyes) or optometrist (one who examines eyes for refractive error, recognizes (but does not treat) diseases of the eye and fills prescriptions for eyeglasses. The practical effect was that no optician could fit old glasses into new frames or supply a new or duplicate lenses without a prescription.

    Issue. Does the Oklahoma law violate the Due Process Clause by arbitrarily interfering with the opticians right to do business?

    Held. Justice Douglas opinion. No.
    For the protection against abuses by legislatures the people must resort to the polls and not to the courts. This law may not be the least restrictive means to achieve the state’s purpose, but the law need not be in every respect logically consistent with its aims to be constitutional.
    The district court also held unconstitutional the provision in the act, which stated a person operating a retail store that serves the general public, could not rent, or lease space in that store to a person purporting to do eye examination or visual care. This is a violation of due process.

    Discussion. During 1937 and 1971, the Supreme Court received seven new members and overturned the old precedents, rejecting all challenges to legislation based on assertions of a constitutional preference for a free economic market place. That would include fixing maximum hours and minimum wages in United States v. Darby (1941), and discouraging membership in a union in Phelps Dodge Corp v. NLRB (1941).


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