The Lochner Era
Lochner v. New York
198 U.S. 45 (1905).
There is a substantive right to contract that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
The statute is unconstitutional.
New York passed a statute that limited the number of hours (to 60 per week) a bakery was allowed to work their employees.
The majority argues that there is a fundamental right to contract. In other words, it is super important that employers and employees are allowed to establish contracts as they wish. This idea is protected by the word “liberty” within the 14th Amendment.
The court ultimately argues that the right to contract is not allowed to be infringed by the state.
There are two steps to substantive due process. First, the Court will determine whether there is a fundamental right to something which is protected by liberty (in this case the right to contract). Second, the court will determine what kind of protection these individuals need. Here, the majority argues that the bakers are not a vulnerable group (no extreme health risk and high bargaining power through unions) and thus they do not require as much state protection.
This was essentially an example of where the means to end fit does not match. That is, the reasons for the statute do not match with the desired results (e.g. a legislature that cites health risks when there is minimal change to health risk with the passing of the law).
The dissent is essentially the opposite position. There is a belief that the means and the ends fit. In other words, the reasons will actually have a positive desired result.
The law today is that there is not a fundamental right to contract, but there is a fundamental right to privacy.
The End of the Lochner Era
Nebbia v. New York
291 U.S. 502 (1934).
Is an act that limits a grocery chain’s freedom to set the prices on milk unconstitutional?
If the legislature passes a law that has some sort of legitimate basis, the law is constitutional.
The law is upheld.
New York milk suppliers were suffering because the milk prices were undercut and they were unable to support their families. So, the legislature created a committee to investigate a solution to the matter. The committee proposed that the price of milk be set within a certain range which was to be regulated by the Milk Control Board.
Nebbia was an owner of a grocery store who set the prices of milk below the minimum fixed price and was convicted for those actions.
The court essentially backtracks Lochner, there is no freedom to contract. As long as the legislature passes laws that have a legitimate purpose of promoting general welfare, the law will pass.
This case shows that there is no such thing as absolute rights to property or contract. When there are features that are essential to the public welfare (e.g. milk provides nutrition for society), they can overpower the rights of property or contract. Although this case is not directly overturning Lochner, it is certainly undermining it to an extent.
The argument essentially is, all you really need is a rational law that addresses a real problem. If the law is rational, then due process is satisfied.
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish
300 U.S. 379 (1937).
Is the state establishing a minimum wage for women unconstitutional under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
“Regulation which is reasonable in relation to its subject and is adopted in the interests of the community is due process.”
The law is not a violation of Due Process.
The state had passed a law that established a minimum wage for women. The West Coast Hotel argued that the law was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process clause because it restricted the company’s freedom to contract.
Freedom to contract is essentially gone. As long as the state has a legitimate purpose and the end goal is achieved, the act is constitutional. Here, the purpose is to protect women who have disparate bargaining power from the overreach of employers.
One of the largest takeaways from this case is that there is no longer a right to freedom to contract (there is nothing in the constitution that provides for that right). This is the case that is considered the overruling of Lochner.
So, what is the standard that is going to be used? Ultimately, a rational basis test is applied (without using those words). If there is a rational purpose of the legislation that has the ability to reach those ends, then the act is constitutional.
United States v. Caroline Products Co.
304 U.S. 144 (1938).
When there is a rational basis for legislation (as proved by the surrounding facts), the legislation is constitutional.
The Filled Milk Act of 1923 is upheld.
Congressional committed discovered that milk manufactures had produced milk with oil, instead of the milk fat, which resulted in malnutrition. This substituted milk was called Filled Milk, and could be produced faster and cheaper, and thus sold cheaper. Many individuals purchase this product because it looks and tastes just like pure milk and was sold in similar containers.
With these findings, Congress (under the commerce clause) passed a law that prohibited individuals from shipping filled milk in interstate commerce.
Caroline Products Co. challenged the constitutionality of the law.
Here, the facts support the legislation. The legislature passed the law because of the health complications that would arise from using filled milk. As such, the legislature had a rational basis for passing a law that restricted the shipping of filled milk (a harmful product).
The takeaway: As long as there are either known or inferred facts that support a legislative judgment, that judgement is constitutional. In other words, there is no longer economic substantive due process.
There are two large takeaways from this case:
- Rational basis is the test to be applied in economic substantive due process cases (almost every regulation will be constitutional).
- Footnote 4 – This opinion does not restrict the court from addressing substantive due process for rights associated with the first 10 Amendments/minorities in the future.
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.