Other Business and Employment Relations
Labor Relations.

Objections to labor legislation on the ground that the limitation of particular regulations to specified industries was obnoxious to the Equal Protection Clause have been consistently overruled.1613 Statutes limiting hours of labor for employees in mines, smelters,1614 mills, factories,1615 or on public works1616 have been sustained. And a statute forbidding persons engaged in mining and manufacturing to issue orders for payment of labor unless redeemable at face value in cash was similarly held unobjectionable.1617 The exemption of mines employing fewer than ten persons from a law pertaining to measurement of coal to determine a miner’s wages is not unreasonable.1618 All corporations1619 or public service corporations1620 may be required to issue to employees who leave their service letters stating the nature of the service and the cause of leaving even though other employers are not so required.

Industries may be classified in a workers’ compensation act according to the respective hazards of each,1621 and the exemption of farm laborers and domestic servants does not render such an act invalid.1622 A statute providing that no person shall be denied opportunity for employment because he is not a member of a labor union does not offend the Equal Protection Clause.1623 At a time when protective labor legislation generally was falling under “liberty of contract” applications of the Due Process Clause, the Court generally approved protective legislation directed solely to women workers,1624 and this solicitude continued into present times in the approval of laws that were more questionable,1625 but passage of the sex discrimination provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has generally called into question all such protective legislation addressed solely to women.1626

Monopolies and Unfair Trade Practices.

On the principle that the law may hit the evil where it is most felt, state antitrust laws applicable to corporations but not to individuals,1627 or to vendors of commodities but not to vendors of labor,1628 have been upheld. Contrary to its earlier view, the Court now holds that an antitrust act that exempts agricultural products in the hands of the producer is valid.1629 Diversity with respect to penalties also has been sustained. Corporations violating the law may be proceeded against by bill in equity, while individuals are indicted and tried.1630 A provision, superimposed upon the general antitrust law, for revocation of the licenses of fire insurance companies that enter into illegal combinations, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.1631 A grant of monopoly privileges, if otherwise an appropriate exercise of the police power, is immune to attack under that clause.1632 Likewise, enforcement of an unfair sales act, under which merchants are privileged to give trading stamps, worth two and one-half percent of the price, with goods sold at or near statutory cost, while a competing merchant, not issuing stamps, is precluded from making an equivalent price reduction, effects no discrimination. There is a reasonable basis for concluding that destructive, deceptive competition results from selective loss-leader selling whereas such abuses do not attend issuance of trading stamps “across the board,” as a discount for payment in cash.1633

Administrative Discretion.

A municipal ordinance that vests in supervisory authorities a naked and arbitrary power to grant or withhold consent to the operation of laundries in wooden buildings, without consideration of the circumstances of individual cases, constitutes a denial of equal protection of the law when consent is withheld from certain persons solely on the basis of nationality.1634 But a city council may reserve to itself the power to make exceptions from a ban on the operation of a dairy within the city,1635 or from building line restrictions.1636 Written permission of the mayor or president of the city council may be required before any person shall move a building on a street.1637 The mayor may be empowered to determine whether an applicant has a good character and reputation and is a suitable person to receive a license for the sale of cigarettes.1638 In a later case,1639 the Court held that the unfettered discretion of river pilots to select their apprentices, which was almost invariably exercised in favor of their relatives and friends, was not a denial of equal protection to persons not selected despite the fact that such apprenticeship was requisite for appointment as a pilot.

Social Welfare.

The traditional “reasonable basis” standard of equal protection adjudication developed in the main in cases involving state regulation of business and industry. “The administration of public welfare assistance, by contrast, involves the most basic economic needs of impoverished human beings. We recognize the dramatically real factual difference between the cited cases and this one, but we can find no basis for applying a different constitutional standard.”1640 Thus, a formula for dispensing aid to dependent children that imposed an upper limit on the amount one family could receive, regardless of the number of children in the family, so that the more children in a family the less money per child was received, was found to be rationally related to the legitimate state interest in encouraging employment and in maintaining an equitable balance between welfare families and the families of the working poor.1641 Similarly, a state welfare assistance formula that, after calculation of individual need, provided less of the determined amount to families with dependent children than to those persons in the aged and infirm categories did not violate equal protection because a state could reasonably believe that the aged and infirm are the least able to bear the hardships of an inadequate standard of living, and that the apportionment of limited funds was therefore rational.1642 Although reiterating that this standard of review is “not a toothless one,” the Court has nonetheless sustained a variety of distinctions on the basis that Congress could rationally have believed them justified,1643 acting to invalidate a provision only once, and then on the premise that Congress was actuated by an improper purpose.1644

Similarly, the Court has rejected the contention that access to housing, despite its great importance, is of any fundamental interest that would place a bar upon the legislature’s giving landlords a much more favorable and summary process of judicially controlled eviction actions than was available in other kinds of litigation.1645

However, a statute that prohibited the dispensing of contraceptive devices to single persons for birth control but not for disease prevention purposes and that contained no limitation on dispensation to married persons was held to violate the Equal Protection Clause on several grounds. On the basis of the right infringed by the limitation, the Court saw no rational basis for the state to distinguish between married and unmarried persons. Similarly, the exemption from the prohibition for purposes of disease prevention nullified the argument that the rational basis for the law was the deterrence of fornication, the rationality of which the Court doubted in any case.1646 Also denying equal protection was a law affording married parents, divorced parents, and unmarried mothers an opportunity to be heard with regard to the issue of their fitness to continue or to take custody of their children, an opportunity the Court decided was mandated by due process, but presuming the unfitness of the unmarried father and giving him no hearing.1647

Punishment of Crime.

Equality of protection under the law implies that in the administration of criminal justice no person shall be subject to any greater or different punishment than another in similar circumstances.1648 Comparative gravity of criminal offenses is, however, largely a matter of state discretion, and the fact that some offenses are punished with less severity than others does not deny equal protection.1649 Heavier penalties may be imposed upon habitual criminals for like offenses,1650 even after a pardon for an earlier offense,1651 and such persons may be made ineligible for parole.1652 A state law doubling the sentence on prisoners attempting to escape does not deny equal protection by subjecting prisoners who attempt to escape together to different sentences depending on their original sentences.1653

A statute denying state prisoners good-time credit for pre-sentence incarceration, but permitting those prisoners who obtain bail or other release immediately to receive good-time credit for the entire period that they ultimately spend in custody, good time counting toward the date of eligibility for parole, does not deny the prisoners incarcerated in local jails equal protection. The distinction is rationally justified by the fact that good-time credit is designed to encourage prisoners to engage in rehabilitation courses and activities that exist only in state prisons and not in local jails.1654

The Equal Protection Clause does, however, render invalid a statute requiring the sterilization of persons convicted of various offenses when the statute draws a line between like offenses, such as between larceny by fraud and embezzlement.1655 A statute that provided that convicted defendants sentenced to imprisonment must reimburse the state for the furnishing of free transcripts of their trial by having amounts deducted from prison pay denied such persons equal protection when it did not require reimbursement of those fined, given suspended sentences, or placed on probation.1656 Similarly, a statute enabling the state to recover the costs of such transcripts and other legal defense fees by a civil action violated equal protection because indigent defendants against whom judgment was entered under the statute did not have the benefit of exemptions and benefits afforded other civil judgment debtors.1657 But a bail reform statute that provided for liberalized forms of release and that imposed the costs of operating the system upon one category of released defendants, generally those most indigent, was not invalid because the classification was rational and because the measure was in any event a substantial improvement upon the old bail system.1658 The Court has applied the clause strictly to prohibit numerous de jure and de facto distinctions based on wealth or indigency.1659

Footnotes

1613
Central State Univ. v. American Ass’n of Univ. Professors, 526 U.S. 124 (1999) (upholding limitation on the authority of public university professors to bargain over instructional workloads). [Back to text]
1614
Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366 (1988). [Back to text]
1615
Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426 (1917). [Back to text]
1616
Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207 (1903). [Back to text]
1617
Keokee Coke Co. v. Taylor, 234 U.S. 224 (1914). See also Knoxville Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U.S. 13 (1901). [Back to text]
1618
McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.S. 539 (1909). [Back to text]
1619
Prudential Ins. Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530 (1922). [Back to text]
1620
Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. v. Perry, 259 U.S. 548 (1922). [Back to text]
1621
Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington, 243 U.S. 219 (1917). [Back to text]
1622
New York Central R.R. v. White, 243 U.S. 188 (1917); Middletown v. Texas Power & Light Co., 249 U.S. 152 (1919); Ward & Gow v. Krinsky, 259 U.S. 503 (1922). [Back to text]
1623
Lincoln Fed. Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525 (1949). Nor is it a denial of equal protection for a city to refuse to withhold from its employees’ paychecks dues owing their union, although it withholds for taxes, retirement-insurance programs, saving programs, and certain charities, because its offered justification that its practice of allowing withholding only when it benefits all city or department employees is a legitimate method to avoid the burden of withholding money for all persons or organizations that request a checkoff. City of Charlotte v. Firefighters, 426 U.S. 283 (1976). [Back to text]
1624
E.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908). [Back to text]
1625
Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948). [Back to text]
1626
Title VII, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. On sex discrimination generally, see “Classifications Meriting Close Scrutiny—Sex,” supra. [Back to text]
1627
Mallinckrodt Works v. St. Louis, 238 U.S. 41 (1915). [Back to text]
1628
International Harvester Co. v. Missouri, 234 U.S. 199 (1914). [Back to text]
1629
Tigner v. Texas, 310 U.S. 141 (1940) (overruling Connolly v. Union Sewer Pipe Co., 184 U.S. 540 (1902)). [Back to text]
1630
Standard Oil Co. v. Tennessee, 217 U.S. 413 (1910). [Back to text]
1631
Carroll v. Greenwich Ins. Co., 199 U.S. 401 (1905). [Back to text]
1632
Pacific States Co. v. White, 296 U.S. 176 (1935); see also Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873): Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502, 529 (1934). [Back to text]
1633
Safeway Stores v. Oklahoma Grocers, 360 U.S. 334, 339–41 (1959). [Back to text]
1634
Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886). [Back to text]
1635
Fischer v. St. Louis, 194 U.S. 361 (1904). [Back to text]
1636
Gorieb v. Fox, 274 U.S. 603 (1927). [Back to text]
1637
Wilson v. Eureka City, 173 U.S. 32 (1899). [Back to text]
1638
Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183 (1900). [Back to text]
1639
Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Comm’rs, 330 U.S. 552 (1947). [Back to text]
1640
Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485 (1970). Decisions respecting the rights of the indigent in the criminal process and dicta in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 627 (1969), had raised the prospect that because of the importance of “food, shelter, and other necessities of life,” classifications with an adverse or perhaps severe impact on the poor and needy would be subjected to a higher scrutiny. Dandridge was a rejection of this approach, which was more fully elaborated in another context in San Antonio School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 18–29 (1973). [Back to text]
1641
Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 483–87 (1970). [Back to text]
1642
Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535 (1972). See also Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78 (1971) (sustaining Social Security provision reducing disability benefits by amount received from worker’s compensation but not that received from private insurance). [Back to text]
1643
E.g., Mathews v. De Castro, 429 U.S. 181 (1976) (provision giving benefits to married woman under 62 with dependent children in her care whose husband retires or becomes disabled but denying benefits to divorced woman under 62 with dependents represents rational judgment with respect to likely dependency of married but not divorced women); Califano v. Boles, 443 U.S. 282 (1979) (limitation of benefits to widows and divorced wives of wage earners does not deny equal protection to mother of illegitimate child of wage earner who was never married to wage earner). [Back to text]
1644
Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528 (1973) (also questioning rationality). [Back to text]
1645
Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56 (1972). The Court did invalidate one provision of the law requiring tenants against whom an eviction judgment had been entered after a trial to post a bond in double the amount of rent to become due by the determination of the appeal, because it bore no reasonable relationship to any valid state objective and arbitrarily distinguished between defendants in eviction actions and defendants in other actions. Id. at 74–79. [Back to text]
1646
Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972). [Back to text]
1647
Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 658 (1972). [Back to text]
1648
Pace v. Alabama, 106 U.S. 583 (1883). See Salzburg v. Maryland, 346 U.S. 545 (1954), sustaining law rendering illegally seized evidence inadmissible in prosecutions in state courts for misdemeanors but permitting use of such evidence in one county in prosecutions for certain gambling misdemeanors. Distinctions based on county areas were deemed reasonable. In North v. Russell, 427 U.S. 328 (1976), the Court sustained the provision of law-trained judges for some police courts and lay judges for others, depending upon the state constitutional classification of cities according to population, since as long as all people within each classified area are treated equally, the different classifications within the court system are justifiable. [Back to text]
1649
Collins v. Johnston, 237 U.S. 502, 510 (1915); Pennsylvania v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51 (1937). [Back to text]
1650
McDonald v. Massachusetts, 180 U.S. 311 (1901); Moore v. Missouri, 159 U.S. 673 (1895); Graham v. West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616 (1912). [Back to text]
1651
Carlesi v. New York, 233 U.S. 51 (1914). [Back to text]
1652
Ughbanks v. Armstrong, 208 U.S. 481 (1908). [Back to text]
1653
Pennsylvania v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51 (1937). [Back to text]
1654
McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263 (1973). Cf. Hurtado v. United States, 410 U.S. 578 (1973). [Back to text]
1655
Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535 (1942). [Back to text]
1656
Rinaldi v. Yeager, 384 U.S. 305 (1966). But see Fuller v. Oregon, 417 U.S. 40 (1974) (imposition of reimbursement obligation for state-provided defense assistance upon convicted defendants but not upon those acquitted or whose convictions are reversed is objectively rational). [Back to text]
1657
James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128 (1972). [Back to text]
1658
Schilb v. Kuebel, 404 U.S. 357 (1971). [Back to text]
1659
See “Poverty and Fundamental Interests: The Intersection of Due Process and Equal Protection—Generally,” supra. [Back to text]