• Last updated on November 11, 2022

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 ProgressiveProgressivism movement, Congress in 1916 passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act,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),[case]E. C. Knight Co., United States v.[E. C. Knight Co., United States v.] Justice William R. DayDay, William R.;Hammer v. Dagenhart[Hammer v. Dagenhart] based his opinion on a distinction between manufacturing and commerce, in combination with the doctrine of dual federalism.Dual federalism The states, under their police powersPolice powers and the Tenth Amendment,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.Interstate commerceChild laborInterstate commerceManufacturing, regulation of;Hammer v. Dagenhart[Hammer v. Dagenhart]Child laborInterstate commerce

Child labor in a typical New York City shoe factory during the early twentieth century.

(Library of Congress)

In a spirited dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell HolmesHolmes, Oliver Wendell;Hammer v. Dagenhart[Hammer v. Dagenhart] 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.[case]Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.[Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.] (1922). The two decisions were finally overturned in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941).[case]Darby Lumber Co., United States v.[Darby Lumber Co., United States v.][case]Hammer v. Dagenhart[Hammer v. Dagenhart]

Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.

Commerce, regulation of

Darby Lumber Co., United States v.

E. C. Knight Co., United States v.

Federalism

Labor

Progressivism

Tenth Amendment

Categories: History Content