New York passed a Statute (The
Bakeshop Act) that set the maximum
number of hours a person could work in a week.
New York felt that this was
a permissible exercise of their police powers.
Lochner was twice convicted of
overworking his employees. He appealed.
Lochner argued that the Bakeshop
Act was a violation of the 14th
Amendment's guarantee of due
argued that the law violated substantive due process because it was outside the scope of things
the government should be regulating.
Procedural Due Process refers to the procedures the government must
follow when it takes away a person's life, liberty or property.
Substantive Due Process asks whether the government has an adequate
reason for taking away a person's life, liberty or property.
Lochner argued that the
Constitution included a right to contract (Article I §10), so New York couldn't make a law
that interfered with that right.
The US Supreme Court found for
Lochner and struck down the Statute.
The US Supreme Court found
that the law was not a legitimate exercise of New York's police powers.
New York argued that the
State had a right to safeguard their citizens from being overworked to
the point of unhealth, but the Court found that the citizens were able to
decide how much work they could handle by themselves, and that a little
overworking never hurt anybody, so the New York law was not related
"in any real and substantial degree to the health of the
In a dissent, it was argued
that there are all sorts of laws that interfere with business (e.g. no
selling of liquor on Sundays, no usury, etc.), and that this ruling was
based more on the Justice's pro-business leanings than on constitutional
This case became famous for
establishing three concepts that remained true until the reforms of the
New Deal era of the 1930s:
Freedom of Contract is a right protected by the Due
Process Clause of the 5th
Amendment and 14th Amendment.
The government can interfere
with freedom of contract only to
serve a valid police purpose
of protecting public health, public safety or public morals.
The judiciary would
carefully scrutinize legislation to ensure that it only served a police
This case was repudiated by
the reforms of the New Deal.
Since then, pure labor laws,
ones that don't directly relate to public health, safety, or morals have
been generally presumed to be
valid exercises of a State's police powers.
That's a complete reversal
of the logic in this case.