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Truax v. Raich

The Right To Earn A Living

In presenting their case before the Court, the appellants did not bother disputing Raich's allegation that his Fourteenth Amendment rights had been infringed. Instead, they challenged the suit on other grounds. Raich, they claimed, had no right to sue the state of Arizona nor should his suit be allowed to prevent the enforcement of a criminal statute. It was also argued that the facts of the case did not constitute grounds for Raich to bring a civil lawsuit, a "suit in equity," in what was essentially a criminal matter.

When the Court delivered its decision on 1 November 1915, Justice Hughes' written opinion succinctly disposed of the appellants' claims. By naming Truax, Jones, and Gilmore as defendants, Justice Hughes pointed out that Raich had not sued the state of Arizona. Rather, the suit was directed at Jones and Gilmore as officers of a state attempting to interfere with Raich's employment through an unconstitutional law. As for the characterization of Raich's employment as a criminal matter and therefore inappropriate for consideration by "a court of equity," Justice Hughes wrote that civil lawsuits were proper if they sought to prevent prosecutions under unconstitutional laws. Furthermore, the Court defined the right to earn a living as a property right, which was plainly an appropriate issue for consideration in such a suit.

Justice McReynolds dissented, commenting that the Eleventh Amendment prohibition against federal courts meddling in the enforcement of state criminal statutes should apply. To the majority of the Court, however, the Fourteenth Amendment was more applicable to the Raich controversy. Justice Hughes pointed out that the power to regulate immigration and the admittance of aliens to the United States was reserved for the federal government, not the states. In the 1886 Yick Wo v. Hopkins decision, the Court had held that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment extended equal protection of American laws to any foreigner who legally entered the United States. Local statutes could be enacted to protect the health, safety, morals, and welfare of state citizens. Such laws could not, however, interfere with the ordinary right to earn a livelihood.

"It requires no argument to show that the right to work for a living in the common occupations of the community is of the very essence of the personal freedom and opportunity that it was the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment to secure," wrote Justice Hughes. "If this could be refused solely upon the basis of race or nationality the prohibition of the denial to any person of the equal protection of the laws would be a barren form of words."

Arizona's Anti-Alien Law was finished, but William Truax's problems with his employees were far from over. Only a year after the Raich decision, Truax sued his kitchen staff for joining a local Cooks & Waiters Union boycott, claiming they were wrecking his business by picketing his restaurant. The suit wound up before the Supreme Court as the 1921 Truax v. Corrigan case.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Truax v. Raich - The Anti-alien Law, The Right To Earn A Living, Further Readings