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Lochner v. New York

Significance

Lochner v. New York postponed protective legislation for women for decades, becoming one of the most controversial decisions in the history of the Supreme Court.

Lochner v. New York began in the Guilded Age and ended in the Progressive Era when laissez-faire capitalism began to clash with a new reforming impulse in America. The conflict embroiled Joseph Lochner, owner of a tiny bakery in Utica, New York, that made biscuits, breads, and cakes for early-morning customers. Lochner's employees worked late, sometimes sleeping overnight on the premises. In April 1901, baker Aman Schmitter labored more than sixty hours a week.

Receiving a complaint, police arrested Lochner, charging him with violating New York's Bakeshop Act. The law set minimum standards for sanitation and fixed the number of hours that the mostly male bakers could work--at no more than ten hours a day or sixty hours a week.

Approximately ten months after his arrest, Lochner's case went to trial in the county court. Lochner refused to plead either guilty or innocent and offered no defense, intending to appeal. This tactic left Judge W. T. Dunmore only two choices: to sentence the defendant to a fifty-dollar fine or fifty days in jail. On the same day of the conviction, Lochner's attorney, William S. Mackie, filed an appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York.

He argued that the Bakeshop regulations interfered with Lochner's right to earn a living, a liberty protected under the U.S. Constitution. Three of five judges disagreed, believing that the statute was a valid exercise of the state's power. Again Mackie appealed and lost.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Lochner v. New York - Significance, A Baker's Lawyer, Due Process And Daniel Webster, A Surprise Verdict