Bound by Our Constitution: Women, Workers, and the Minimum Wage

By Vivien Hart | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Due Process
THE WELFARE OF THE ECONOMY, U.S.A., 1923–1937

THEADKINSDECISION was issued on 9 April 1923. In a flurry of correspondence between the principals, despair and anger alternated. Frankfurter foresaw “terrible implications” of the adoption of the “Alice Paul theory of constitutional law.” Justice Brandeis wrote privately to Frankfurter that the “fundament [sic] vice” of the decision was “the distortion of ‘due process’ 40 years ago.” Newton D. Baker, president of the National Consumers' League, found it “disheartening” and spoke of picking over “the wreckage.” Judge Amidon of North Dakota wrote of employers “preying upon the necessities of women, ” and lawyer George Alger described the judgment as a “sickening mess.” Only two days later, Adkins told Frankfurter that the district commissioners, who were “decidedly unfriendly” to the board, had acted: “Yesterday without consulting us they decided to close up our work immediately and to notify us to turn over our records to them by the 15th instant.” 1

Kelley urgently convened a postmortem panel of lawyers, administrators, journalists, and reformers. They brought years of experience to their deliberations but had nothing new to offer. Kelley and Dewson listened as the group talked defensively of an educational campaign and of safeguarding the remaining laws by “non-mandatory” provisions on the notably ineffective Massachusetts model. The meeting endorsed the proposal of Governor Hart of the state of Washington that a governors' conference consider amending the Constitution. All this was wishful thinking; the only action approved was to “undertake to obtain analyses of the Supreme Court minimum wage decision by one group of authoritative economists, and by a second group of eminent constitutional lawyers.” 2

A meeting sponsored by the Women's Trade Union League in May was even less positive. Dewson captured the disarray after Adkins, when she told Frankfurter that “the conference was thoroughly unsatisfactory to me.” There was no common view: “The A. F. of L. was there in force to tell us what they wanted: help with a blanket amendment [to safeguard the rights of labor] and the organization of working women. Anything different they were prepared to kill…. Besides labor, the Y.W.C.A. attended the conference in droves and talked at length. We all know that debate and generalities are their forte, and not ‘A STAND’ … The rest of the conference was made up of lawyers, each one radically differing from the other with their usual independence of judgment, a few gently bleating ewe lambs, and the glum and gloomy from the National Consumers' League.” 3 For once, uncertainty overwhelmed even Kelley. She

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