Lochner Era - Beginning


The case of Mugler v. Kansas (1887) is often regarded as precursor to the Lochner era and the doctrine of economic substantive due process. Mugler had been convicted of violating a Kansas statute prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol. He argued in part that the statute was unconstitutional under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court affirmed the conviction, but stated its willingness to review the legitimacy of a state using its police power as potentially incompatible with substantive rights guaranteed by the due process clause:

If, therefore, a statute purporting to have been enacted to protect the public health, the public morals, or the public safety has no real or substantial relation to those objects, or is a palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law, it is the duty of the courts to so adjudge, and thereby give effect to the Constitution.

The Court first held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected an individual's "liberty to contract" in the 1897 case of Allgeyer v. Louisiana. In a unanimous opinion, the Court stated that Fourteenth Amendment liberty includes:

(...) 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.

In the era's namesake case of Lochner v. New York (1905), the Court struck down a New York State law limiting the number of hours bakers could work on the grounds that it violated the bakers' "right to contract". In the majority opinion in Lochner, Justice Rufus Peckham stated:

In every case that comes before this court, therefore, where legislation of this character is concerned and where the protection of the Federal Constitution is sought, the question necessarily arises: Is this a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the State, or is it an unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty or to enter into those contracts in relation to labor which may seem to him appropriate or necessary for the support of himself and his family?

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