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Coppage v. Kansas

Dissent Over "freedom Of Contract"

Dissenting justices acceded that the concept of "freedom of contract" was under constitutional protection, but in certain circumstances was subject to restriction and control by a state, especially "in the interests of the public health, safety, and welfare." In Frisbie v. United States, the Court had ruled there was no absolute, unrestricted right to freedom of contract, therefore, contracts were subject to limitations to accommodate a public interest.

The dissenting justices did not believe that the Kansas law was so arbitrary as to be unconstitutional. Its statutory provisions did not prevent an employer from exercising the right to dismiss an employee. However, the justices believed non-union membership was an unacceptable reason to refuse continued employment or to be precondition for employment. Unlike the majority, the minority justices reasoned that the Adair case "dealt solely with the right of an employer to terminate relations of employment with an employee, and involved constitutional protection of his right to do so, but did not deal with the conditions which he might exact or impose upon another as a condition for employment."

The minority opinion viewed the Kansas statute as a legitimate effort to proscribe compulsive and coercive contracting requirements by preventing employers from making non-union membership a term of employment. The justices did not feel both parties maintained contractual parity if an employer discharged an employee for reasons which only the employer found satisfactory. The justices found difficulty in believing that the options Coppage presented to Hedges did not imply elements of coercion. Thus, Kansas law did not surpass the "legitimate exercise of police power" because the state enacted statutory provisions which "put limitations upon the sacrifice of rights which one man may exact from another as a condition of employment."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Coppage v. Kansas - Significance, Employers' Rights Upheld, Dissent Over "freedom Of Contract", Impact, Yellow-dog Contracts