Lochner is the most famous case in which the Supreme Court used the doctrine of substantive due process to overturn a statute regulating labor conditions.
Journeymen bakers in the late 1900’s often worked more than one hundred hours per week, sometimes in squalid tenement cellars. There was good evidence that the combination of working long hours, breathing flour dust, and being subjected to extremes of hot and cold harmed the health of these workers. In New York, journalist Edward Marshall joined forces with the leader of the Bakers’ Union, Henry Weismann, in a crusade for legislation to improve working conditions in bakeries. In 1895 the state legislature unanimously passed the Bakeshop Act, regulating standards of sanitation and setting maximum hours of work. However, the statute harmed owners of small bakeries that operated on small profit margins. In 1902 one such owner, Joseph Lochner of Utica, was fined fifty dollars when one of his employees worked sixty hours during a week. Appealing the conviction, Lochner’s attorneys argued that the statute violated the substantive liberty protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Writing for the majority in Lochner, Justice Rufus W. Peckham argued that the due process clause protected an unenumerated freedom of contract.
After losing in New York courts, Lochner prevailed in the Supreme Court with a vote of five to four. Reaffirming the basic idea in Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897),
In dissent, John Marshall Harlan
The Lochner case firmly entrenched the freedom of contract doctrine into constitutional law. In subsequent cases, the Court followed the precedent in overturning numerous laws regulating businesses and working conditions. It was only in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937)
Contract, freedom of
Due process, substantive
Holden v. Hardy
Judicial codes and rules