This one of those post that you get a little more than you expect while writing it. I have heard about it recently and decided to see what it was all about. Being that I am not in law school it never truly crossed my radar. But here is some of what I learned. I hope it clears this up a little or enlightens you as it did me.
Lochner v. New York is widely viewed as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history. It is taught in law schools along side upholding segregation and permitting Japaneese detention camps. Even Robert Bork, who claimed women werent discriminated against anymore, called it an abomination, that it is the quintessence of judicial usurpation of power.
Lochner fabricated a so called right to contract in order to strike down a New York law preventing bakery owners from overworking bakers. It had implications for any law trying to protect workers. Lochner established that any law that limits any contract between employer and employee is constitutionally suspect. Lochner essentially placed any law benefitting workers on constitutionally weak footing. It also concludes that the Constitution prohibits states from interfering with most employment contracts because the right to buy and sell labor is a fundamental freedom protected by th 14th Amendment. The “right to contact” it invented does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.
The court admitted that while in certain circumstances states may legitimately regulate certain contracts through their police powers. The baking industry, unlike the mining industry, was not an unhealthy trade. Therefore it was not legally subject to regulation.
For the next 32 years federal courts used Lochner to overturn numerous laws attempting to regulate various aspects of business, employment and property interests. During this period, referred to as the Lochner era, public sentiment strongly supported the idea that government should minimally interfere with the new industrial capatalistic market, an idea known as laissez-faire economics. Following the stock market crash of 1929 FDR began to establish a social and economic reform program based on a series of new federal laws. The court using the Lochner decision consistently overturned the laws much to the dismay of the public and President.
Finally in 1937 the court embraced Holmes dissent in Lochner. In the case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parish in letting stand a Washington law setting a minimum wage for women, the court ruled that freedom to contract was not unlimited. For the rest if the 20th century government was given the freedom to regulate workplace and other economic affairs. So technicall the law was overturned in 1937.
Rand Paul cited this in his 13 hour filubuster as a wonderful law. This law gave employers the right to treat employees however they wanted. That is not a good way for a leader to look at a law that is widely considered one of the worst in American history. As I read this I started to realize similarities between what happened then and what Republicans are trying to do now. That is scary, I realize conservatism is a means of living in the past, but this is ridiculus. I believe the Constitution is a progressive document as well as us breaking from a world power like England was progressive. Progress moves us forward, that is what the American experiment needs.
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