Regulation of Labor Conditions
Liberty of Contract.

One of the most important concepts used during the ascendancy of economic due process was liberty of contract. The original idea of economic liberties was advanced by Justices Bradley and Field in the Slaughter-House Cases,86 and elevated to the status of accepted doctrine in Allgeyer v. Louisiana,87 It was then used repeatedly during the early part of this century to strike down state and federal labor regulations. “The liberty mentioned in that [Fourteenth] amendment means not only the right of the citizen to be free from the mere physical restraint of his person, as by incarceration, but the term is deemed to embrace the right of the citizen to be free in the enjoyment of all his faculties; to be free to use them in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; to pursue any livelihood or avocation, and for that purpose to enter into all contracts which may be proper, necessary and essential to his carrying out to a successful conclusion the purposes above mentioned.”88

The Court, however, did sustain some labor regulations by acknowledging that freedom of contract was “a qualified and not an absolute right. . . . Liberty implies the absence of arbitrary restraint, not immunity from reasonable regulations and prohibitions imposed in the interests of the community. . . . In dealing with the relation of the employer and employed, the legislature has necessarily a wide field of discretion in order that there may be suitable protection of health and safety, and that peace and good order may be promoted through regulations designed to insure wholesome conditions of work and freedom from oppression.”89

Still, the Court was committed to the principle that freedom of contract is the general rule and that legislative authority to abridge it could be justified only by exceptional circumstances. To serve this end, the Court intermittently employed the rule of judicial notice in a manner best exemplified by a comparison of the early cases of Holden v. Hardy90 and Lochner v. New York.91 In Holden v. Hardy,92 the Court, relying on the principle of presumed validity, allowed the burden of proof to remain with those attacking a Utah act limiting the period of labor in mines to eight hours per day. Recognizing the fact that labor below the surface of the earth was attended by risk to person and to health and for these reasons had long been the subject of state intervention, the Court registered its willingness to sustain a law that the state legislature had adjudged “necessary for the preservation of health of employees,” and for which there were “reasonable grounds for believing that . . . [it was] supported by the facts.”

Seven years later, however, a radically altered Court was predisposed in favor of the doctrine of judicial notice. In Lochner v. New York,93 the Court found that a law restricting employment in bakeries to ten hours per day and 60 hours per week was not a true health measure, but was merely a labor regulation, and thus was an unconstitutional interference with the right of adult laborers, sui juris, to contract for their means of livelihood. Denying that the Court was substituting its own judgment for that of the legislature, Justice Peckham nevertheless maintained that whether the act was within the police power of the state was a “question that must be answered by the Court.” Then, in disregard of the medical evidence proffered, the Justice stated: “In looking through statistics regarding all trades and occupations, it may be true that the trade of a baker does not appear to be as healthy as some other trades, and is also vastly more healthy than still others. To the common understanding the trade of a baker has never been regarded as an unhealthy one. . . . It might be safely affirmed that almost all occupations more or less affect the health. . . . But are we all, on that account, at the mercy of the legislative majorities?”94

Justice Harlan, in dissent, asserted that the law was a health regulation, pointing to the abundance of medical testimony tending to show that the life expectancy of bakers was below average, that their capacity to resist diseases was low, and that they were peculiarly prone to suffer irritations of the eyes, lungs, and bronchial passages. He concluded that the very existence of such evidence left the reasonableness of the measure open to discussion and thus within the discretion of the legislature. “The responsibility therefor rests upon the legislators, not upon the courts. No evils arising from such legislation could be more far-reaching than those that might come to our system of government if the judiciary, abandoning the sphere assigned to it by the fundamental law, should enter the domain of legislation, and upon grounds merely of justice or reason or wisdom annul statutes that had received the sanction of the people’s representatives. . . . [L]egislative enactments should be recognized and enforced by the courts as embodying the will of the people, unless they are plainly and palpably, beyond all question, in violation of the fundamental law of the Constitution.”95

A second dissenting opinion, written by Justice Holmes, has received the greater measure of attention as a forecast of the line of reasoning the Court was to follow some decades later. “This case is decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain. If it were a question whether I agreed with that theory, I should desire to study it further and long before making up my mind. But I do not conceive that to be my duty, because I strongly believe that my agreement or disagreement has nothing to do with the right of a majority to embody their opinions in law. 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 or if you like as tyrannical as this, and which equally with this interfere with the liberty to contract. . . . The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics. . . . But a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution. . . . I think that the word liberty in the Fourteenth Amendment is perverted when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion, unless it can be said that a rational and fair man necessarily would admit that the statute proposed would infringe fundamental principles as they have been understood by the traditions of our people and our law.”96

Justice Holmes did not reject the basic concept of substantive due process, but rather the Court’s presumption against economic regulation.97 Thus, Justice Holmes whether consciously or not, was prepared to support, along with his opponents in the majority, a “perpetual censorship” over state legislation. The basic distinction, therefore, between the positions taken by Justice Peckham for the majority and Justice Holmes, for what was then the minority, was the use of the doctrine of judicial notice by the former and the doctrine of presumed validity by the latter.

Holmes’ dissent soon bore fruit in Muller v. Oregon98 and Bunting v. Oregon,99 which allowed, respectively, regulation of hours worked by women and by men in certain industries. The doctrinal approach employed was to find that the regulation was supported by evidence despite the shift in the burden of proof entailed by application of the principle of judicial notice. Thus, counsel defending the constitutionality of social legislation developed the practice of submitting voluminous factual briefs, known as “Brandeis Briefs,”100 replete with medical or other scientific data intended to establish beyond question a substantial relationship between the challenged statute and public health, safety, or morals. Whenever the Court was disposed to uphold measures pertaining to industrial relations, such as laws limiting hours of work,101 it generally intimated that the facts thus submitted by way of justification had been authenticated sufficiently for it to take judicial cognizance thereof. On the other hand, whenever it chose to invalidate comparable legislation, such as enactments establishing a minimum wage for women and children,102 it brushed aside such supporting data, proclaimed its inability to perceive any reasonable connection between the statute and the legitimate objectives of health or safety, and condemned the statute as an arbitrary interference with freedom of contract.

During the great Depression, however, the laissez faire tenet of self-help was replaced by the belief that it is peculiarly the duty of government to help those who are unable to help themselves. To sustain this remedial legislation, the Court had to extensively revise its previously formulated concepts of “liberty” under the Due Process Clause. Thus, the Court, in overturning prior holdings and sustaining minimum wage legislation,103 took judicial notice of the demands for relief arising from the Depression. And, in upholding state legislation designed to protect workers in their efforts to organize and bargain collectively, the Court reconsidered the scope of an employer’s liberty of contract, and recognized a correlative liberty of employees that state legislatures could protect.

To the extent that it acknowledged that liberty of the individual may be infringed by the coercive conduct of private individuals no less than by public officials, the Court in effect transformed the Due Process Clause into a source of encouragement to state legislatures to intervene affirmatively to mitigate the effects of such coercion. By such modification of its views, liberty, in the constitutional sense of freedom resulting from restraint upon government, was replaced by the civil liberty which an individual enjoys by virtue of the restraints which government, in his behalf, imposes upon his neighbors.

Laws Regulating Working Conditions and Wages.

As noted, even during the Lochner era, the Due Process Clause was construed as permitting enactment by the states of maximum hours laws applicable to women workers104 and to all workers in specified lines of work thought to be physically demanding or otherwise worthy of special protection.105 Similarly, the regulation of how wages were to be paid was allowed, including the form of payment,106 its frequency,107 and how such payment was to be calculated.108 And, because of the almost plenary powers of the state and its municipal subdivisions to determine the conditions for work on public projects, statutes limiting the hours of labor on public works were also upheld at a relatively early date.109 Further, states could prohibit the employment of persons under 16 years of age in dangerous occupations and require employers to ascertain whether their employees were in fact below that age.110

The regulation of mines represented a further exception to the Lochner era’s anti-discrimination tally. As such health and safety regulation was clearly within a state’s police power, a state’s laws providing for mining inspectors (paid for by mine owners),111 licensing mine managers and mine examiners, and imposing liability upon mine owners for failure to furnish a reasonably safe place for workmen, were upheld during this period.112 Other similar regulations that were sustained included laws requiring that underground passageways meet or exceed a minimum width,113 that boundary pillars be installed between adjoining coal properties as a protection against flood in case of abandonment,114 and that wash houses be provided for employees.115

One of the more significant negative holdings of the Lochner era was that states could not regulate how much wages were to be paid to employees.116 As with the other working condition and wage issues, however, concern for the welfare of women and children seemed to weigh heavily on the justices, and restrictions on minimum wages for these groups were discarded in 1937.117 Ultimately, the reasoning of these cases was extended to more broadly based minimum wage laws, as the Court began to offer significant deference to the states to enact economic and social legislation benefitting labor.

The modern theory regarding substantive due process and wage regulation was explained by Justice Douglas in 1952 in the following terms: “Our recent decisions make plain that we do not sit as a super-legislature to weigh the wisdom of legislation nor to decide whether the policy which it expresses offends the public welfare. The legislative power has limits. . . . But the state legislatures have constitutional authority to experiment with new techniques; they are entitled to their own standard of the public welfare; they may within extremely broad limits control practices in the business-labor field, so long as specific constitutional prohibitions are not violated and so long as conflicts with valid and controlling federal laws are avoided.”118

The Justice further noted that “many forms of regulation reduce the net return of the enterprise. . . . Most regulations of business necessarily impose financial burdens on the enterprise for which no compensation is paid. Those are part of the costs of our civilization. Extreme cases are conjured up where an employer is required to pay wages for a period that has no relation to the legitimate end. Those cases can await decision as and when they arise. The present law has no such infirmity. It is designed to eliminate any penalty for exercising the right of suffrage and to remove a practical obstacle to getting out the vote. The public welfare is a broad and inclusive concept. The moral, social, economic, and physical well-being of the community is one part of it; the political well-being, another. The police power which is adequate to fix the financial burden for one is adequate for the other. The judgment of the legislature that time out for voting should cost the employee nothing may be a debatable one. It is indeed conceded by the opposition to be such. But if our recent cases mean anything, they leave debatable issues as respects business, economic, and social affairs to legislative decision. We could strike down this law only if we returned to the philosophy of the Lochner, Coppage, and Adkins cases.”119

Workers’ Compensation Laws.

Workers’ compensation laws also evaded the ravages of Lochner. The Court “repeatedly has upheld the authority of the States to establish by legislation departures from the fellow-servant rule and other common-law rules affecting the employer’s liability for personal injuries to the employee.”120 Accordingly, a state statute that provided an exclusive system to govern the liabilities of employers for disabling injuries and death caused by accident in certain hazardous occupations,121 irrespective of the doctrines of negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and negligence of fellow-servants, was held not to violate due process.122 Likewise, an act that allowed an injured employee, though guilty of contributory negligence, an election of remedies between restricted recovery under a compensation law or full compensatory damages under the Employers’ Liability Act, did not deprive an employer of his property without due process of law.123 A variety of other statutory schemes have also been upheld.124

Even the imposition upon coal mine operators of the liability of compensating former employees who terminated work in the industry before passage of the law for black lung disabilities was sustained by the Court as a rational measure to spread the costs of the employees’ disabilities to those who have profited from the fruits of their labor.125 Legislation readjusting rights and burdens is not unlawful solely because it upsets otherwise settled expectations, but it must take account of the realities previously existing, i.e., that the danger may not have been known or appreciated, or that actions might have been taken in reliance upon the current state of the law. Consequently, legislation imposing liability on the basis of deterrence or of blameworthiness might not have passed muster.

Collective Bargaining.

During the Lochner era, liberty of contract, as translated into what one Justice labeled the Allgeyer-LochnerAdair-Coppage doctrine,126 was used to strike down legislation calculated to enhance the bargaining capacity of workers as against that already possessed by their employers.127 The Court did, however, on occasion sustain measures affecting the employment relationship, such as a statute requiring every corporation to furnish a departing employee a letter setting forth the nature and duration of the employee’s service and the true cause for leaving.128 In Senn v. Tile Layers Union,129 however, the Court began to show a greater willingness to defer to legislative judgment as to the wisdom and need of such enactments.

The significance of Senn130 was, in part, that the case upheld a statute that was not appreciably different from a statute voided five years earlier in Truax v. Corrigan.131 In Truax, the Court had found that a statute forbidding injunctions on labor protest activities was unconstitutional as applied to a labor dispute involving picketing, libelous statements, and threats. The statute that the Court subsequently upheld in Senn, by contrast, authorized publicizing labor disputes, declared peaceful picketing and patrolling lawful, and prohibited the granting of injunctions against such conduct.132 The difference between these statutes, according to the Court, was that the law in Senn applied to “peaceful” picketing only, whereas the law in Truax “was . . . applied to legalize conduct which was not simply peaceful picketing.” Because the enhancement of job opportunities for members of the union was a legitimate objective, the state was held competent to authorize the fostering of that end by peaceful picketing, and the fact that the sustaining of the union in its efforts at peaceful persuasion might have the effect of preventing Senn from continuing in business as an independent entrepreneur was declared to present an issue of public policy exclusively for legislative determination.

Years later, after regulations protective of labor allowed unions to amass enormous economic power, many state legislatures attempted to control the abuse of this power, and the Court’s new-found deference to state labor regulation was also applied to restrictions on unions. Thus, the Court upheld state prohibitions on racial discrimination by unions, rejecting claims that the measure interfered unlawfully with the union’s right to choose its members, abridged its property rights, or violated its liberty of contract. Because the union “[held] itself out to represent the general business needs of employees” and functioned “under the protection of the State,” the union was deemed to have forfeited the right to claim exemption from legislation protecting workers against discriminatory exclusion.133

Similarly, state laws outlawing closed shops were upheld in Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Company134 and AFL v. American Sash & Door Co.135 When labor unions attempted to invoke freedom of contract, the Court, speaking through Justice Black, announced its refusal “to return . . . to . . . [a] due process philosophy that has been deliberately discarded. . . . The due process clause,” it maintained, does not “forbid a State to pass laws clearly designed to safeguard the opportunity of nonunion workers to get and hold jobs, free from discrimination against them because they are nonunion workers.”136

And, in UAW v. WERB,137 the Court upheld the Wisconsin Employment Peace Act, which had been used to proscribe unfair labor practices by a union. In UAW, the union, acting after collective bargaining negotiations had become deadlocked, had attempted to coerce an employer through calling frequent, irregular, and unannounced union meetings during working hours, resulting in a slowdown in production. “No one,” declared the Court, can question “the State’s power to police coercion by . . . methods” that involve “considerable injury to property and intimidation of other employees by threats.”138

Footnotes

86
83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873). [Back to text]
87
165 U.S. 578 (1897). Freedom of contract was also alluded to as a property right, as is evident in the language of the Court in Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 14 (1915). “Included in the right of personal liberty and the right of private property— partaking of the nature of each—is the right to make contracts for the acquisition of property. Chief among such contracts is that of personal employment, by which labor and other services are exchanged for money or other forms of property. If this right be struck down or arbitrarily interfered with, there is a substantial impairment of liberty in the long-established constitutional sense.” [Back to text]
88
165 U.S. at 589. [Back to text]
89
Chicago, B. & Q. R.R. v. McGuire, 219 U.S. 549, 567, 570 (1911). See also Wolff Packing Co. v. Industrial Court, 262 U.S. 522, 534 (1923). [Back to text]
90
169 U.S. 366 (1898). [Back to text]
91
198 U.S. 45 (1905). [Back to text]
92
169 U.S. 366, 398 (1898). [Back to text]
93
198 U.S. 45 (1905). [Back to text]
94
198 U.S. at 59. [Back to text]
95
198 U.S. at 74 (quoting Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207, 223 (1903)). [Back to text]
96
198 U.S. at 75–76. [Back to text]
97
Thus, Justice Holmes’ criticism of his colleagues was unfair, as even a “rational and fair man” would be guided by some preferences or “economic predilections.” [Back to text]
98
208 U.S. 412 (1908). [Back to text]
99
243 U.S. 426 (1917). [Back to text]
100
Named for attorney (later Justice) Louis Brandeis, who presented voluminous documentation to support the regulation of women’s working hours in Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908). [Back to text]
101
E.g., Muller v. Oregon; Bunting v. Oregon. [Back to text]
102
See, e.g., Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923). [Back to text]
103
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937). Thus the National Labor Relations Act was declared not to “interfere with the normal exercise of the right of the employer to select its employees or to discharge them.” However, restraint of the employer for the purpose of preventing an unjust interference with the correlative right of his employees to organize was declared not to be arbitrary. NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 44, 45–46 (1937). [Back to text]
104
Miller v. Wilson, 236 U.S. 373 (1915) (statute limiting work to 8 hours/day, 48 hours/week); Bosley v. McLaughlin, 236 U.S. 385 (1915) (same restrictions for women working as pharmacists or student nurses). See also Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) (10 hours/day as applied to work in laundries); Riley v. Massachusetts, 232 U.S. 671 (1914) (violation of lunch hour required to be posted). [Back to text]
105
See, e.g., Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366 (1898) (statute limiting the hours of labor in mines and smelters to eight hours per day); Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426 (1917) (statute limiting to ten hours per day, with the possibility of 3 hours per day of overtime at time-and-a-half pay, work in any mill, factory, or manufacturing establishment). [Back to text]
106
Statute requiring redemption in cash of store orders or other evidences of indebtedness issued by employers in payment of wages did not violate liberty of contract. Knoxville Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U.S. 13 (1901); Dayton Coal and Iron Co. v. Barton, 183 U.S. 23 (1901); Keokee Coke Co. v. Taylor, 234 U.S. 224 (1914). [Back to text]
107
Laws requiring railroads to pay their employees semimonthly, Erie R.R. v. Williams, 233 U.S. 685 (1914), or to pay them on the day of discharge, without abatement or reduction, any funds due them, St. Louis, I. Mt. & S.P. Ry. v. Paul, 173 U.S. 404 (1899), do not violate due process. [Back to text]
108
Freedom of contract was held not to be infringed by an act requiring that miners, whose compensation was fixed on the basis of weight, be paid according to coal in the mine car rather than at a certain price per ton for coal screened after it has been brought to the surface, and conditioning such payment on the presence of no greater percentage of dirt or impurities than that ascertained as unavoidable by the State Industrial Commission. Rail Coal Co. v. Ohio Industrial Comm’n, 236 U.S. 338 (1915). See also McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.S. 539 (1909). [Back to text]
109
Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207 (1903). [Back to text]
110
Sturges & Burn v. Beauchamp, 231 U.S. 320 (1913). [Back to text]
111
St. Louis Consol. Coal Co. v. Illinois, 185 U.S. 203 (1902). [Back to text]
112
Wilmington Mining Co. v. Fulton, 205 U.S. 60 (1907). [Back to text]
113
Barrett v. Indiana, 229 U.S. 26 (1913). [Back to text]
114
Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 531 (1914). [Back to text]
115
Booth v. Indiana, 237 U.S. 391 (1915). [Back to text]
116
Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923); Stettler v. O’Hara, 243 U.S. 629 (1917); Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587 (1936). [Back to text]
117
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) (overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923), a Fifth Amendment case); Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587 (1936). [Back to text]
118
Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouri, 342 U.S. 421, 423 (1952) (sustaining a Missouri statute giving employees the right to absent themselves for four hours while the polls were open on election day without deduction of wages for their absence). The Court in Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. recognized that the legislation in question served as a form of wage control for men, which had previously found unconstitutional. Justice Douglas, however, wrote that “the protection of the right of suffrage under our scheme of things is basic and fundamental,” and hence within the states’ police power. [Back to text]
119
342 U.S. at 424–25. See also Dean v. Gadsden Times Pub. Co., 412 U.S. 543 (1973) (sustaining statute providing that employee excused for jury duty should be entitled to full compensation from employer, less jury service fee). [Back to text]
120
New York Cent. R.R. v. White, 243 U.S. 188, 200 (1917). “These decisions have established the propositions that the rules of law concerning the employer’s responsibility for personal injury or death of an employee arising in the course of employment are not beyond alteration by legislation in the public interest; that no person has a vested right entitling him to have these any more than other rules of law remain unchanged for his benefit; and that, if we exclude arbitrary and unreasonable changes, liability may be imposed upon the employer without fault, and the rules respecting his responsibility to one employee for the negligence of another and respecting contributory negligence and assumption of risk are subject to legislative change.” Arizona Employers’ Liability Cases, 250 U.S. 400, 419–20 (1919). [Back to text]
121
In determining what occupations may be brought under the designation of “hazardous,” the legislature may carry the idea to the “vanishing point.” Ward & Gow v. Krinsky, 259 U.S. 503, 520 (1922). [Back to text]
122
Nor does it violate due process to deprive an employee or his dependents of the higher damages that, in some cases, might be rendered under these doctrines. New York Central R.R. v. White, 243 U.S. 188 (1917); Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington, 243 U.S. 219 (1917). [Back to text]
123
Arizona Employers’ Liability Cases, 250 U.S. 400 (1919). [Back to text]
124
Chicago, B. & Q. R.R. v. McGuire, 219 U.S. 549 (1911) (prohibiting contracts limiting liability for injuries and stipulating that acceptance of benefits under such contracts shall not constitute satisfaction of a claim); Alaska Packers Ass’n v. Industrial Accident Comm’n,, 294 U.S. 532 (1935) (forbidding contracts exempting employers hired-in-state from liability for injuries outside the state); Thornton v. Duffy, 254 U.S. 361 (1920) (required contribution to a state insurance fund by an employer even though employer had obtained protection from an insurance company under previous statutory scheme); Booth Fisheries v. Industrial Comm’n, 271 U.S. 208 (1926) (finding of fact of an industrial commission conclusive if supported by any evidence regardless of its preponderance, right to come under a workmen’s compensation statute is optional with employer); Staten Island Ry. v. Phoenix Co., 281 U.S. 98 (1930) (wrongdoer is obliged to indemnify employer or the insurance carrier of the employer in the amount which the latter were required to contribute into special compensation funds); Sheehan Co. v. Shuler, 265 U.S. 371 (1924) (where an injured employee dies without dependents, employer or carrier required to make payments into special funds to be used for vocational rehabilitation or disability compensation of injured workers of other establishments); New York State Rys. v. Shuler, 265 U.S. 379 (1924) (same holding as above case); New York Cent. R.R. v. Bianc, 250 U.S. 596 (1919) (attorneys are not deprived of property or their liberty of contract by restriction imposed by the state on the fees they may charge in cases arising under the workmen’s compensation law); Yeiser v. Dysart, 267 U.S. 540 (1925) (compensation need not be based exclusively on loss of earning power, and award authorized for injuries resulting in disfigurement of the face or head, independent of compensation for inability to work). [Back to text]
125
Usery v. Turner Elkhorn Mining Co., 428 U.S. 1, 14–20 (1976). But see id. at 38 (Justice Powell concurring). [Back to text]
126
Justice Black in Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525, 535 (1949). In his concurring opinion, contained in the companion case of AFL v. American Sash & Door Co., 335 U.S. 538, 543–44 (1949), Justice Frankfurter summarized the now obsolete doctrines employed by the Court to strike down state laws fostering unionization. “[U]nionization encountered the shibboleths of a premachine age and these were reflected in juridical assumptions that survived the facts on which they were based. Adam Smith was treated as though his generalizations had been imparted to him on Sinai and not as a thinker who addressed himself to the elimination of restrictions which had become fetters upon initiative and enterprise in his day. Basic human rights expressed by the constitutional conception of ‘liberty’ were equated with theories of laissez faire. The result was that economic views of confined validity were treated by lawyers and judges as though the Framers had enshrined them in the Constitution. . . . The attitude which regarded any legislative encroachment upon the existing economic order as infected with unconstitutionality led to disrespect for legislative attempts to strengthen the wage-earners’ bargaining power. With that attitude as a premise, Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161 (1908), and Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1 (1915), followed logically enough; not even Truax v. Corrigan, 257 U.S. 312 (1921), could be considered unexpected.” [Back to text]
127
In Adair and Coppage the Court voided statutes outlawing “yellow dog” contracts whereby, as a condition of obtaining employment, a worker had to agree not to join or to remain a member of a union; these laws, the Court ruled, impaired the employer’s “freedom of contract”—the employer’s unrestricted right to hire and fire. In Truax, the Court on similar grounds invalidated an Arizona statute which denied the use of injunctions to employers seeking to restrain picketing and various other communicative actions by striking employees. And in Wolff Packing Co. v. Industrial Court, 262 U.S. 522 (1923); 267 U.S. 552 (1925) and Dorchy v. Kansas, 264 U.S. 286 (1924), the Court had also ruled that a statute compelling employers and employees to submit their controversies over wages and hours to state arbitration was unconstitutional as part of a system compelling employers and employees to continue in business on terms not of their own making. [Back to text]
128
Prudential Ins. Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530 (1922). Added provisions that such letters should be on plain paper selected by the employee, signed in ink and sealed, and free from superfluous figures and words, were also sustained as not amounting to any unconstitutional deprivation of liberty and property. Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. v. Perry, 259 U.S. 548 (1922). In conjunction with its approval of this statute, the Court also sanctioned judicial enforcement of a local policy rule which rendered illegal an agreement of several insurance companies having a local monopoly of a line of insurance, to the effect that no company would employ within two years anyone who had been discharged from, or left, the service of any of the others. On the ground that the right to strike is not absolute, the Court in a similar manner upheld a statute under which a labor union official was punished for having ordered a strike for the purpose of coercing an employer to pay a wage claim of a former employee. Dorchy v. Kansas, 272 U.S. 306 (1926). [Back to text]
129
301 U.S. 486 (1937). [Back to text]
130
301 U.S. 468 (1937). [Back to text]
131
257 U.S. 312 (1921). [Back to text]
132
The statute was applied to deny an injunction to a tiling contractor being picketed by a union because he refused to sign a closed shop agreement containing a provision requiring him to abstain from working in his own business as a tile layer or helper. [Back to text]
133
Railway Mail Ass’n v. Corsi, 326 U.S. 88, 94 (1945). Justice Frankfurter, concurring, declared that “the insistence by individuals of their private prejudices . . . , in relations like those now before us, ought not to have a higher constitutional sanction than the determination of a State to extend the area of nondiscrimination beyond that which the Constitution itself exacts.” Id. at 98. [Back to text]
134
335 U.S. 525 (1949). [Back to text]
135
335 U.S. 538 (1949). [Back to text]
136
335 U.S. at 534, 537. In a lengthy opinion, in which he registered his concurrence with both decisions, Justice Frankfurter set forth extensive statistical data calculated to prove that labor unions not only were possessed of considerable economic power but by virtue of such power were no longer dependent on the closed shop for survival. He would therefore leave to the legislatures the determination “whether it is preferable in the public interest that trade unions should be subjected to state intervention or left to the free play of social forces, whether experience has disclosed ‘union unfair labor practices,’ and if so, whether legislative correction is more appropriate than self-discipline and pressure of public opinion. . . .” Id. at 538, 549–50. [Back to text]
137
336 U.S. 245 (1949). [Back to text]
138
336 U.S. at 253. See also Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., 336 U.S. 490 (1949) (upholding state law forbidding agreements in restraint of trade as applied to union ice peddlers picketing wholesale ice distributor to induce the latter not to sell to nonunion peddlers). Other cases regulating picketing are treated under the First Amendment topics, “Picketing and Boycotts by Labor Unions” and “Public Issue Picketing and Parading,” supra. [Back to text]