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Holden v. Hardy

"a Progressive Science"

In preparing to rule on this case, the Supreme Court realized that it was dealing with a new situation. Usually, the Court tried to rely solely on the Constitution when deciding a case. It also tried to guide itself by "common law," the customs inherited from centuries of legal tradition in England. In his majority opinion, Justice Brown explained that the law was "a progressive science." In other words, law was a discipline that changed with the times.

Justice Brown wrote that "certain . . . classes of persons, particularly those engaged in dangerous or unhealthful employments, have been found to be in need of additional protection," protection that was not explicitly provided by the Constitution.

When asked whether miners and smelters were in need of additional protection, Justice Brown answered in the affirmative. He pointed out that the nature of mining and smelting had changed a great deal since the Constitution was ratified, and that

in the vast proportions which these industries have since assumed, it has been found that they can no longer be carried on with due regard to the safety and health of those engaged in them, without special protection against the dangers necessarily incident to these employments.
In short, Justice Brown, speaking for the majority, affirmed that the Utah law was valid and that Holden's prosecution under the law was justified. The principle that the government could regulate the working conditions of at least some workers had been established.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Holden v. Hardy - Significance, Utah Limits The Miner's Workday, "a Progressive Science", Miners And Bakers