William Rufus Day
William Rufus Day served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1903 to 1922. Day served on a Court dominated by Justice OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR., yet Day played a key role during a period when the federal government began to extend its police and regulatory powers.
Day was born April 17, 1849, in Ravenna, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1870 and attended its law school for one year. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1872 and entered practice in Canton, Ohio.
Ohio was a hotbed of REPUBLICAN PARTY politics in the late nineteenth century. Day became active in the party and, more important, became a trusted friend and adviser to WILLIAM MCKINLEY, who was elected president in 1896. McKinley appointed Day SECRETARY OF STATE in April 1898. Five months later Day was chosen to head the U.S. Peace Commission to negotiate an end to the SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR with Spain. He left his cabinet post to fulfill this duty.
McKinley rewarded Day for his friendship, political counsel, and service as secretary of state with an appointment in 1899 to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. With McKinley's assassination in 1901, Vice President THEODORE ROOSEVELT assumed the presidency. In 1903 Roosevelt appointed Day to the Supreme Court, in part because Roosevelt needed to strengthen his ties with Ohio Republicans.
Day held a centrist position on the Supreme Court. More liberal justices such as Holmes and LOUIS D. BRANDEIS sought to allow more active government involvement in the national economy. Conservative justices continued to restrict government regulation of business and the growth of federal power. Day took a middle course, though some commentators believe he tilted more to supporting STATES' RIGHTS.
His most famous opinion, HAMMER V. DAGENHART, 247 U.S. 251, 38 S. Ct. 529, 62 L. Ed. 1101 (1918), illustrates his more conservative tendencies. In the early 1900s, Congress sought to regulate the use of child labor, passing a child labor act in 1916 (39 Stat. 675, c. 432, formally known as the Keating-Owen Act). The act prohibited the movement in interstate commerce of goods that were made by children. In Hammer, a manufacturer was charged with violating the act. Under the Constitution's COMMERCE CLAUSE, Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce. Day gave the clause a restrictive reading, ruling that commerce did not include manufactured goods that were themselves harmless. In addition, he said, Congress had intruded into an area of regulation that was reserved to the states. To allow Congress to regulate industry would destroy FEDERALISM and the system of government set out in the Constitution.
Despite this hostility to the Child Labor Act, Day upheld the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce in other cases that
involved the shipment of impure food, drugs, and liquor. He was also supportive of federal antitrust prosecutions that involved restraint of trade.
However, Day's opposition to federal regulation of the workplace did not carry over to state regulation of industry. This is revealed in his dissent in LOCHNER V. NEW YORK, 198 U.S. 45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937 (1905). In Lochner the Court, on a 5–4 vote, struck down a New York state law that specified a maximum sixty-hour week for bakery employees. The Court ruled that the law was a "meddlesome interference" with business, concluding that the regulation of work hours was an unjustified infringement on "the right to labor, and with the right of free contract on the part of the individual, either as employer or employee." Although Holmes's dissent has received more attention, Day's made clear that the state had the right to promote public welfare, even if it came in conflict with the concept of liberty of contract.
Finally, Day authored the opinion in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S. Ct. 341, 58 L. Ed. 652 (1914), which established the federal EXCLUSIONARY RULE for criminal evidence seized in violation of the FOURTH AMENDMENT. Day's opinion suggested that exclusion of tainted evidence was implicit in the requirement of the Fourth Amendment. If illegally seized evidence could be admitted in a criminal trial, he said, "the protection of the 4th Amendment … is of no value … and might as well be stricken from the Constitution."
Day retired from the Court in 1922. He died on Mackinac Island, Michigan, on July 9, 1923.