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Lochner v. New York

Citation. 198 U.S. 45 (1905)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The indictment charges that the plaintiff in error violated the labor law of the State of New York, in that he wrongfully and unlawfully required and permitted an employee working for him to work more than sixty hours in one week.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

If a law involves neither the safety, the morals nor the welfare of the public, and that the interest of the public is not in the slightest degree affected by such an act, the Court is likely to reject the act.


The employers required their employees to work more than sixty hours in one week. The occupation was comprised of bakers. There is no contention that the bakers as a class are not equal in intelligence and capacity to men in other trades or manual occupations, or that they are not able to assert their rights and care for themselves without the protecting arm of the State, interfering with their independence of judgment and of action.


Can the State require an employee, who works for his employer to work more than sixty hours in one week, to work less than the hours?


No, the statute necessarily interferes with the right of contract between the employer and employees, concerning the number of hours in which the latter may labor in the bakery of the employer. The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Under that provision, no State can, as did New York here, deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The right to purchase or to sell labor is part of the liberty protected by the Constitution.


Justice Harlan and Holmes

Harlan: There are many reasons of a weighty, substantial character, based on the experience of mankind, in support of the theory that more than ten hours’ steady work each day, from week to week, in a bakery may endanger the health and shorten the lives of the workmen, thereby reducing their physical and mental capacity to serve the State.

Holmes: It is settled by various decisions of this Court that state constitutions and state laws may regulate life in many ways which we as legislators might think as injudicious. Examples include Sunday laws and laws prohibiting lotteries. The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, and by every state institution. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views.


The limit of the police power has been reached and passed in this case. There is no reasonable foundation for holding this is to be necessary or appropriate as a health law to safeguard the public health or the health of individuals who are following the trade of a baker. If this statute be valid, there would seem to be no length to which legislation of this nature might not go. The real object and purpose of the contract between the employer and employees were simply to regulate the hours of labor between the master and his employees in a private business, not dangerous in any degree to morals or in any real and substantial degree, to the health of the employees. Under such circumstances, the freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Constitution.

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