National League of Cities v. Usery

PETITIONER:National League of Cities
LOCATION: National League of Cities

DOCKET NO.: 74-878
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 426 US 833 (1976)
REARGUED: Mar 02, 1976
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1976
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1975

Calvin L. Rampton – Argued the cause for the appellants
Charles S. Rhyne – Argued the cause for the appellants
Robert H. Bork – Argued the cause for the appellees
Talmadge R. Jones

Facts of the case

In 1974, Congress passed amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The purpose of the amendments was to regulate minimum wage and overtime pay for state and local government employees. The National League of Cities, as well as several states and cities, challenged the constitutionality of the amendments.


May Congress, acting under its commerce power, regulate the labor market of state employees, which the Tenth Amendment reserves to the states?

Media for National League of Cities v. Usery

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 16, 1975 in National League of Cities v. Usery
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument – March 02, 1976 in National League of Cities v. Usery

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 24, 1976 in National League of Cities v. Usery

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has three opinions to announce, National League of Cities against Usery, Aldinger against Howard, and United States against Santana.

William H. Rehnquist:

In National League of Cities against Usery, the case arises out of suits brought in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by appellants National League of Cities and towns, the State of California and individual cities and towns against respondent Secretary of Labor.

Appellants sought to enjoin the enforcement of parts of the 1974 Amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The District Court denied them relief.

We heard the case argued last term and reargued this term.

The case presents the question of whether Congress may, in enacting minimum wage legislation, treated the states and their political subdivisions, as if there were no different from a private employer.

The original Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted in 1938.

Its essential thrust was to require employees or employers, producing goods for commerce, to pay their employees a stipulated minimum hourly wage, and to require those employers to pay their employees time-and-a-half for hours worked in access of 40 per week.

In the case of United States against Darby decided in 1941, this Court upheld the Act as well within the power of Commerce, of Congress under its Commerce Clause authority.

Subsequent amendments have broaden the coverage of the Act to more employees and have been increased the stipulated minimum wage.

But until 1961, the Act have expressly excluded form its definition of employers states, cities, and similar bodies.

Even though these entities obviously represented a large and growing portion of the nation’s employers.

In 1961, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to bring within its coverage public employees whose work was in hospitals, schools, and similar institutions.

The state challenge these 1961 amendments on constitutional grounds, which, for the first time, included them as employers for purposes of the Act.

But in the case of Maryland against Wirtz, decided in 1967, this Court upheld the constitutionality of the 1961 Amendments.

By the 1974 Amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which are attacked in the case now before us, Congress sought to expand what had been merely a beachhead under the 1961 Amendments, into an across the board statutory directive to state and local governments, requiring them to pay a stipulated minimum wage to their employees and to pay those employees time-and-a-half for overtime.

The District Court in this case, although it denied relief to the appellants, observed that upon further consideration this Court might wish to retreat from some of what it described as the far reaching implications of the decision in Maryland against Wirtz, but that court quite properly recognized that only this Court could authorize such a retreat.

We have found this to be a very difficult case, no less difficult after reargument than after the first argument.

We agree with the District Court that the principles on which Maryland against Wirtz was decided control this case, even though they two are factually distinguishable.

After mature and careful consideration, as we are capable of giving the matter, we have decided that Maryland against Wirtz was wrongly decided, and we now overrule it.

We hold that Congress is prohibited by traditional principles of inter-governmental immunity embodied in the Constitution from using its commerce power to impose minimum wage and maximum hour requirements on employees of state and local governments who were engaged in the carrying out of integral government functions or the furnishing of traditional governmental services.

We accordingly, reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand the case to it for further proceedings and conformity with the opinion filed today with the clerk.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a separate concurring opinion; Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Marshall joined; Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.