Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court

By G. Edward White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
7
AN UNLIKELY
REFORMER

As Holmes entered his second decade on the Supreme Court, he began to take judicial positions that made him appear to be a critic of the established economic order. Progressive legislatures had begun to try to regulate the working hours and wages of industrial laborers, hoping to guarantee an eight-hour day or a minimum wage, and those laws were now being challenged on constitutional grounds. The challenges were based on the idea that both employers and employees had a constitutional right to buy and sell their services on the terms they chose—the “liberty of contract,” as it was called. It was thought to be an interference with this liberty for legislatures to impose maximum-hour or minimum-wage restrictions on businesses, or to prohibit contracts that made a worker’s employment conditional on his promise not to join a union. In a series of cases from 1905 through the 1920s—Lochner v. New York, Adair v. United States, Coppage v. Kansas, and Adkins v. Children’s Hospital—a majority of the Supreme Court struck down this progressive legislation.

The Court based its decisions on an interpretation of the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments to

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Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Prologue- the 90Th-Birthday Address 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Family Legacy 13
  • Chapter 2 - Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire- The Civil War Years 25
  • Chapter 3 - The Practical Struggle of Life- Becoming a Lawyer and a Judge 35
  • Chapter 4 - The Quiet Years 57
  • Chapter 5 - A More Important and More Visible Court 69
  • Chapter 6 - A New and Solemn Volume Opens 79
  • Chapter 7 - An Unlikely Reformer 94
  • Chapter 8 - The Yankee from Olympus 106
  • Chapter 9 - Toward Melancholy- The Retirement Years 126
  • Epilogue 138
  • Chronology 143
  • Further Reading 145
  • Index 147
  • Acknowledgments 151
  • Picture Credits 153
  • Text Credits 155
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