Citation. 198 U.S. 45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937; 1905 U.S. 1153.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A New York statute regulated the number of hours bakers could work.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The right to make a contract in relation to one’s business, is a part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
A New York statute provided that no employee shall work in a bakery more than 60 hours a week or 10 hours a day. The stated purpose of the statute was to protect the health of individuals involved in the baker profession.
Was the New York law regulating bakers’ hours a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the State’s police powers?
No. The lower court is reversed.
Justice Rufus Peckham (J. Peckham) stated that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution reads no State shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The right to buy or sell labor constitutes a liberty interest. The States may, however, burden the liberty interests of its citizens through its police powers for the sake of promoting the safety, the health, the morals or the general welfare of the public, if the exercise of such powers is fair, reasonable and appropriate. But, the statute here is not reasonable.
First, it does not affect the safety, morals or welfare of the public. If it is designed for the sake of promoting the health of the public, it lacks a sufficient means to ends fit. The law does not effect any occupation other than bakers. Clean and wholesome bread does depend on the number of hours a baker works.
Moreover, there are no reasonable grounds for interfering with the right to contract by means of determining the permissible hours of labor for a baker. Bakers are not an exceptionally vulnerable class.
Justice John Harlan (J. Harlan) said the statute must be regarded as the expression of the citizens of New York that labor in excess of 60 hours a week leads to bad health. Whether or not the statute was wise is not up to the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) to say. It is impossible to say there is no real relation between the means and ends for this statute.
Justice Oliver W. Holmes (J. Holmes) argued this case was decided based on an economic theory and with which a lot of people in the country do not agree. A constitution is not supposed to embody a particular economic theory.
Lochner is one of the most contentious cases in Supreme Court history. The debate centers on the nature of the right to contract. Is the right to contract a fundamental right as J. Peckham tends to believe? If so, from what source does it derive its fundamental character? Can the freedom to contract be said to be fundamental because it is included within the concept of liberty or of property or from some other source?