• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In an age of laissez-faire constitutionalism, the Supreme Court recognized that a state, under its police power, could place some restrictions on freedom of contract.

During the 1890’s Albert Holden was convicted of violating a Utah statute that had established the eight-hour workday in mines and smelters.Maximum-hour laws In appealing his conviction, Holden argued that the law deprived both employees and employers of their constitutionally protected liberty to enter into contracts. Only one year earlier, in Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897),[case]Allgeyer v. Louisiana[Allgeyer v. Louisiana] the Supreme Court had overturned a state law that had been found to violate this unenumerated right, which was based on a substantive reading of the due processDue process, substantive clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the Holden case, however, the Court voted six to two to uphold the Utah law. Justice Henry B. BrownBrown, Henry B.;Holden v. Hardy[Holden v. Hardy] explained that the freedom of contract was subject to limitation by the state’s police power, which authorized the state to protect the safety, health, and morals of the public. While accepting the need for regulations in dangerous occupations such as mining, Brown’s opinion suggested that the Court in the future would require a strong rationale for all governmental restrictions on the freedom of contract. The significance of Brown’s reasoning would become much clearer when the Court overturned a maximum-hour law in Lochner v. New York (1905).[case]Lochner v. New York[Lochner v. New York][case]Holden v. Hardy[Holden v. Hardy]Police powersBusiness, regulation of;Holden v. Hardy[Holden v. Hardy]Contract, freedom of;Holden v. Hardy[Holden v. Hardy]Police powers

In Holden v. Hardy, Justice Henry B. Brown explained that the freedom of contract was subject to limitation by the state's police power.

(Library of Congress)

Contract, freedom of

Due process, substantive


Lochner v. New York

West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish

Categories: History