Selected Papers of Homer Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, 1933-1939

By Carl Brent Swisher; Homer S. Cummings | Go to book overview

8. The Vicissitudes of Minimum Wage Legislation

[In the swing toward conservatism which characterized the "back to normalcy" movement of the postwar period, the Supreme Court in 1923, by a vote of five to three, held unconstitutional a minimum wage law of the District of Columbia as taking liberty and property without due process of law (see Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U. S. 525). The decision was widely criticized at the time and during succeeding years, but its principles remained the law of the land. In Morehead v. New York, 298 U. S. 587, decided June 1, 1936, the Court by a vote of five to four adhered to the established precedent and placed the stamp of unconstitutionality upon the minimum wage law of the State of New York. This action indicated that the Court was not merely hostile to federal New Deal measures, but was opposed to the achievement of broad social ends by state action as well. Sharp criticism followed, from diverse political groups. On March 29, 1937, in a case involving a law of the State of Washington, the Court by a vote of five to four overruled the Adkins case and held the law constitutional (see West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish, 300 U. S. 379). News of this action on the part of the Court was received with enthusiasm by the administration, though not without pointed comments on the effects of the election and the court reform movement on the trend of judicial interpretation. Ed.]


From a statement on the decision sustaining state minimum wage legislation, March 31, 1937:

AFTER twenty years of unabated struggle, a state minimum wage act is now for the first time sustained by the Supreme Court. Only by the shift of the vote of a single justice were the constitutional rights of the state legislatures reinstated.

So it happens that the Constitution on Monday, March 29, 1937, does not mean the same thing that it meant on Monday, June 1, 1936. For on Monday June 1, 1936, the Court stated:

The decision [the Adkins decision in 1923 and the reasoning upon which it rests clearly show that the state is

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