Lochner v. New York Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A New York labor law required employees to work no more than sixty hours in one week.

Facts of the case

The state of New York enacted a statute known as the Bakeshop Act, which forbid bakers to work more than 60 hours a week or 10 hours a day. Lochner was accused of permitting an employee to work more than 60 hours in one week. The first charge resulted in a fine of $25, and a second charge a few years later resulted in a fine of $50. While Lochner did not challenge his first conviction, he appealed the second, but was denied in state court. Before the Supreme Court, he argued that the Fourteenth Amendment should have been interpreted to contain the freedom to contract among the rights encompassed by substantive due process.

Question

Does the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment protect liberty of contract and private property against unwarranted government interference?

Answer

“Justice Peckham opinion. This law is an abridgment to the liberty of contract and a violation of due process.&nbsp

  • The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. No state can deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The right to purchase or sell labor is part of that liberty protected. The only way a state may counter this right is to show they are exercising a valid police power with their regulation. Those powers relate to the safety, health, morals and general welfare of the public.”

    Conclusion

    The statute was not necessary as a health law to safeguard the public health or the health of the individuals who labored as bakers. The trade of a baker was not an unhealthy one to such a degree that would authorize the legislature to interfere with the right to labor and the right of free contract on the part of the individual. Various regulations already governed the cleanliness of the quarters in which bakeries were to be conducted. Restricting the number of hours that a baker could work would not further the purpose of those regulations. It was not possible to discover the connection between the number of hours a baker could work and the quality of the bread that he produced.

    • Case Brief: 1905
    • Petitioner: Joseph Lochner
    • Respondent: New York
    • Decided by: Fuller Court

    Citation: 198 US 45 (1905)
    Argued: Feb 23 – 24, 1905
    Decided: Apr 17, 1905