The first of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Supreme Court appointees, Day supported antitrust regulation and state power to regulate economic rights. In his most important opinion, he struck down the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act (1916).
Born in Ohio in 1849, Day was descended from a family of judges. His grandfather and father served as justices on state supreme courts. Day followed in their footsteps, graduating from law school and running his own law practice. During his law career, he became friends with the Republican governor, William McKinley. When McKinley was elected president, he appointed Day to the State Department. McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, was soon faced with his first Supreme Court appointment and searched for a judge who would favor his antitrust policies. He settled on Day.
William R. Day
The justice did not disappoint him. In the first important antitrust case for the administration, Northern Securities Co. v. United States (1904),
Day was also a swing vote on the critical legal issue of the day, economic rights. Although he was willing to uphold some state economic regulations, he consistently voted to strike down federal economic regulations. It was these contradictory beliefs that placed Day on different sides of important cases during his Court tenure. For example, Day dissented in Lochner v. New York (1905),
Day did vote to limit federal power in prosecutions. He authored the Court’s opinion in Weeks v. United States (1914).
Day is probably best known for his opinion in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918).
After the Hammer decision, Day served as a justice for four more years, but old age and ill health made him a less productive member of the Court. By 1922 he had become unable to complete his duties and, after consultation with his colleagues, decided to resign.
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Baker, Liva. The Justice from Beacon Hill. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Bickel, Alexander, and Benno Schmidt. Judiciary and Responsible Government. New York: Macmillan Press, 1984. Ely, James W., Jr. The Fuller Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel, eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. 5 vols. New York: Chelsea House, 1997. Renstrom, Peter G. The Taft Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Shoemaker, Rebecca S. The White Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004.
Hammer v. Dagenhart
Northern Securities Co. v. United States
Weeks v. United States