Hammer v. Dagenhart – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Hammer v. Dagenhart, 247 U.S. 251, 38 S. Ct. 529, 62 L. Ed. 1101 (1918).
The Keating-Owen Act of 1916, otherwise known as the Child Labor Act, prohibited the transportation in interstate commerce of goods produced at factories that violated certain restrictions on child labor. Roland Dagenhart worked in a cotton mill in Charlotte, North Carolina with his two minor sons, both of whom would be barred from employment at the mill under the Act. Dagenhart brought this lawsuit seeking an injunction against enforcement of the Act on the grounds that it was not a regulation of interstate or foreign commerce. The government asserted that the Act fell within the authority of Congress under the Commerce Clause.
The district court held that the Act was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
- Does the Commerce Clause grant Congress the power to regulate the transportation in interstate commerce of goods that have been produced using child labor?
Holding and Rule (Day)
- No. The Commerce Clause does not grant Congress the power to regulate the transportation in interstate commerce of goods that have been produced using child labor.
The power to regulate interstate commerce is the power to control the means by which commerce is conducted. It is the power to prescribe the rule by which commerce is governed.
The Court held that it had never sustained a right to exclude certain goods or activity under the commerce power, except for cases in which the nature of the excluded goods themselves brought them under the authority of the federal government. Exclusion had only been permitted where it was in effect merely a regulation of interstate transportation, necessary to prevent the accomplishment through that means of the evils inherent in them.
The manufacture of goods is not commerce. The fact that the goods are intended for and shipped in interstate commerce does not make their production a part of that commerce subject to the control of Congress.
The commerce power was not intended to allow Congress to equalize the economic conditions in the States to unfair competition among them by forbidding the interstate transportation of goods made under conditions which Congress deems to produce unfairness. It was not intended to allow Congress to control the States in the exercise of their police power over local trade and manufacture which is expressly reserved to the States by the Tenth Amendment.
The notion that prohibition is any less prohibition when applied to things now thought evil I do not understand. But if there is any matter upon which civilized countries have agreed it is the evil of premature and excessive child labor. If we are to introduce our own moral conceptions where in my opinion they do not belong, this is preeminently a case for upholding the exercise of all its powers by the United States.
It is not for this Court to pronounce when prohibition is necessary for the regulation of alcohol, but not as against the product of ruined lives.
The Child Labor Act does not infringe upon the States’ police powers. They may regulate their internal affairs and commerce, but when they seek to send their products across state lines, they are no longer within their rights. The Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate such commerce and it may carry out its views of public policy despite any effect on the activities of the States.
See Lochner v. New York for a constitutional law case brief involving the power of Congress to regulate employment under the Commerce Clause.