Hammer v. Dagenhart


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Significance: Striking down federal restrictions on child labor, the Supreme Court held that Congress could regulate only interstate commerce, not the manufacturing of goods destined for such commerce.

Influenced by the Progressive movement, Congress in 1916 passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, which banned from interstate commerce any goods made in a plant using child labor. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. Using the same reasoning as in United States v. E. C. Knight Co. (1895), Justice William R. Day based his opinion on a distinction between manufacturing and commerce, in combination with the doctrine of dual federalism. The states, under their police powers and the Tenth Amendment, possessed broad authority to regulate manufacturing, but the federal government, under the commerce clause, could only regulate those goods and services directly related to interstate commerce. In a spirited dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes accused the majority of reading their own economic prejudices into the Constitution, and he insisted that there was an adequate connection between manufacturing and commerce to justify the law. Despite a public outcry, the Court overturned a second child labor law in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (1922). The two decisions were finally overturned in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941).