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Morehead v. New York

A Dissenting Opinion

Four of the justices, including Chief Justice Hughes, disagreed with the majority opinion. Hughes, writing the dissenting opinion, cited several points. He stated "I can find nothing in the Federal Constitution which denies to the state the power to protect women from being exploited by overreaching employers through the refusal of a fair wage as defined in the New York statute and ascertained in a reasonable manner by competent authority." He first noted that the petitioner, Warden Morehead, did not challenge the fairness of the wage being prescribed by the state industrial commissioner and that the investigation into the wages Morehead was contracting was "careful and deliberate." The justices had to assume that the procedures had been followed as established by the New York act.

Hughes also found that the definition of a fair wage was more restrictive in the Adkins case, and therefore should not be applied to the case before the Court in 1936. The New York act provided not only for a fair wage for women based upon the standard of an adequate living wage, but also upon a standard of reasonable value of the services provided. The District of Columbia's act prescribed a wage that provided an adequate standard for the cost of living. This additional element as stated by Justice Hughes was meant to improve the standard "by requiring a fair equivalence of wage and service."

One of the most crucial points of dissension for the justices was the limitations placed upon the liberty of contract. The overriding question was whether or not the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution interfered with the state's power to protect special groups of citizens. Hughes, Brandeis, Stone, and Cardozo took into consideration whether groups of employees who had no organizing body such as a trade union and weak collective bargaining power were being protected by the state act by establishing a minimum wage and commission to oversee its enactment. In previous decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the "liberty of contract" was a qualified right in which limitations could be used to protect exploited groups and to serve the public interest, and in such a light, the act was appropriate according to the dissenting justices.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Morehead v. New York - Significance, A Dissenting Opinion, Resolution And Reversal, Impact