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Lochner v. New York

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

The petitioner had been indicted under the New York statute – no employee shall be required or permitted to work in a biscuit, bread or cake bakery more than sixty hours in any one week or more than ten hours in any one day – and claimed it violated the Due Process Clause.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The state has the power to prevent the individual from making certain kinds of contracts, and in regard to them the Federal Constitution offers no protection. If the contract be one which the state has the right to prohibit, it is not prevented from prohibiting it by the Fourteenth Amendment.


The New York statute provides that no employee shall be required or permitted to work in a biscuit, bread or cake bakery more than sixty hours in any one week or more than ten hours in any one day. 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 limit of the police power has been reached and passed in this case. There is no reasonable foundation for holding this to be necessary or appropriate as a health law to safeguard the public health, or the health of the individuals who are following the trade of a baker. If this statute be valid, and if a proper case is made out in which to deny the right of an individual, as employer or employee, to make contracts for the labor of the latter under the protection of the provisions of the Constitution, there would seem to be no length to which legislation of this nature might not go.


It is not possible to discover the connection between the number of hours a baker may work in the bakery and the healthful quality of the bread made by the workman. When assertions such as these are made, it gives rise to a suspicion that there was some other motive dominating the legislature than the purpose to subserve the public health or welfare. Under such circumstances, the freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment, and in defining the same, cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution. The trade of a baker is not an unhealthy one to that degree which would authorize the legislature to interfere with the right to labor, and with the right of free contract on the part of the individual, either as employee or employer. Also, there is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty of person or the right of free contract, by determining the hours of labor, in the occupation of a baker. Viewed in light of a purely labor law, a law like this 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.

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