Hammer v. Dagenhart

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Hammer v. Dagenhart
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 247 U.S. 251 (1918)
Date decided June 3, 1918
Appealed from U.S.D.C., Western District of North Carolina
Overturned by
United States v. Darby Lumber Co.
Followed by
Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.
Case Opinions
majority written by William R. Day
joined by Edward D. White, Willis Van Devanter, Mahlon Pitney, James C. McReynolds
dissent written by Oliver W. Holmes, Jr.
joined by Joseph McKenna, Louis D. Brandeis, John H. Clarke

Facts: Dagenhart sought to enjoin Hammer, the US Attorney General, from enforcing the Child Labor Act, which prohibited the shipment in interstate commerce of any product that was produced or mined by child labor. Dagenhart was the father of 2 children who were to be discharged in compliance with the law by the company where they worked. The district court enjoined enforcement. D appealed.

Issue: May Congress prohibit the transportation in interstate commerce of good manufactured by child labor?

Holding: No.

  • Congress does not have general police power. Unlike the Lottery Case, this case involves goods that are themselves harmless. (Manufactured goods are not inherently evil.) Congress does not have power to prohibit movement of ordinary commodities.
  • Manufacturing is a local activity, not subject to the congressional commerce power. The constitutional scheme must be respected; only the states may regulate purely local matters.
    • Even though the goods move across state lines
  • Even though this result leaves those states without their own child labor laws with an advantage in interstate competition, Congress simply has no power to force states to exercise their police power or to equalize conditions among the states.

Judgment: Affirmed.


  • Doctrinal
    • The adjudged cases
    • Structural: There is no power vested in Congress to require the States to exercise their police power so as to prevent possible unfair competition.
    • Ethical: Examination of different state labor laws and their differences from state to state—"Surely this does not give Congress the power to deny transportation in interstate commerce to those who carry on business."
    • Historical—intent of granting power to Congress over interstate commerce—Could also be seen as structural b/c it talks about power of Congress v. power of states
    • Natural Rights/Structural: "The power of the States to regulate their purely internal affairs by such laws as seem wise to the local authority is inherent and has never been surrendered to the general government." Later talks about an invasion by the federal power. (Structural)

Dissent (Holmes): The Child Labor Act does not meddle with state rights. When products are sent across state lines, the states are no longer within their rights. If there were no Constitution and no Congress, their power to cross the line would depend on their neighbors. Under the Constitution, control of such commerce belongs to Congress and not the states. Congress may carry out its views of public policy, whatever the indirect effect on the states. Instead of being encountered by a prohibitive tariff at her boundaries, the state encounters a public policy of the US, which is for Congress to express.

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