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Bunting v. Oregon

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Significance: In upholding a state's maximum-hour law, the Supreme Court weakened but did not overturn the freedom of contract doctrine.


An Oregon law of 1913 established a maximum ten-hour working day for all men and women who worked in factories, mills, and other manufacturing plants. The law required time-and-a-half pay for any additional hours. Bunting, foreman of a mill, was convicted of violating the law. After Louis D. Brandeis was named to the Supreme Court, the National Consumers’ League obtained the services of Felix Frankfurter to defend the constitutionality of the law. In Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Court had upheld a maximum-hour law for women, but it had stated that such a policy could not be justified if applied to men. By a 5-3 vote, nevertheless, the Court upheld the 1913 law as a reasonable way to preserve the health of workers. Although the majority of the justices were strongly opposed to minimum-wage laws, they approved of the time-and-a-half provision as a penalty designed to discourage overtime work, not as a regulation of wages. Justice Joseph McKenna's opinion for the majority was wholly inconsistent with the reasoning and conclusion of Lochner v. New York (1905), but the opinion omitted any reference to Lochner. Despite Bunting, the Court reaffirmed its commitment to the freedom of contract doctrine in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923).