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Holden v. Hardy

Miners And Bakers

If labor activists and reformers thought that Holden v. Hardy meant that the Supreme Court was now firmly on the side of labor, they were sadly mistaken. Only a few years later, in 1905, the Court ruled in Lochner v. New York that a New York state law setting a maximum 60-hour week for bakers was unconstitutional. The two judges who had dissented in Holden v. Hardy were joined by three other colleagues, for a narrow 5-4 margin. The majority opinion, written by Justice Peckham, held that bakers should be free to enter into any contract, including one that required them to work more than 60 hours a week. Justice Peckham argued that bakers were fully competent adults who were not in need of special protection.

The reasons for the Court's vastly different rulings in two cases that, on the surface, appear so similar are uncertain. Some scholars believe that the Court had simply changed with the times, becoming more conservative in response to the increasing agitation for social reform. Other scholars believe that the two cases are perfectly consistent. In both cases, the Court was unwilling to interfere with the right of contract except to protect "health," "safety," "morals," or "welfare." These scholars believe that the Court saw mining as unhealthy, dangerous work, while baking was seen as relatively safe. Therefore, unless working longer hours could be shown to endanger the baker, the federal government had no right to interfere.

During the next several decades, the Court would prove extremely reluctant to approve of labor legislation. Despite the landmark nature of Holden v. Hardy, it would be many years before true workplace reform was accepted by the courts.

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