Bad laws in our nation ruled by law: Hammer v. Dagenhart (child labor is good)

8. Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918): Here, the Court ruled that Congress could not ban child labor in intrastate commerce. Sure, Congress could legislate against gambling and other vices, but whether children were to be kept out of mines and factories was a question only states could decide.

Along with yesterday’s lousy decision dismissing a New York State law–the good beginnings of labor law and fair labor standards–limiting the number of hours bakery employees could be made to work, here’s another goody. This time allowing (encouraging?) child labor. Except in “mines and factories”: only states could make laws limiting kids laboring in mines and factories.


Here’s a bit of the Wikipedia entry on Hammer v. Dagenhart:

During the Progressive Era, public sentiment in America turned against what was perceived as increasingly intolerable child labor conditions. Activities of such groups as the National Child Labor Committee, investigative journalists, and labor groups called attention to unhealthy and unsafe working conditions. Historical material presented by the Smithsonian Institution provides a sense of the motivation behind these concerns in an electronic exhibit on the work of the photographer Lewis Hine:[2]

Over and over, Hine saw children working sixty and seventy-hour weeks, by day and by night, often under hazardous conditions. He saw children caught in a cycle of poverty, with parents often so ill-paid that they could not support a family on their earnings alone, and had to rely on their children’s earnings as a supplement for the family’s survival. He saw children growing up stunted mentally (illiterate or barely able to read because their jobs kept them out of school) and physically (from lack of fresh air, exercise, and time to relax and play). He saw countless children who had been injured and permanently disabled on the job; he knew that, in the cotton mills for example, children had accident rates three times those of adults.

Responding to the growing public concern, many states sought to impose local restrictions on child labor. In many states, however, the attempt to regulate was ineffective. In addition, manufacturers argued that where restrictions were imposed only in selected states, it placed them at a competitive disadvantage with competitors from states which still placed no restrictions.

Unable to regulate hours and working conditions for child labor within individual states, Congress sought to regulate child labor by banning the product of that labor from interstate commerce. The Keating-Owen Act of 1916 prohibited interstate commerce of any merchandise that had been made by children under the age of fourteen, or merchandise that had been made in factories where children between the ages of 14 and 16 worked for more than eight hours a day, worked overnight, or worked more than sixty hours a week.



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