The Taft Court (1921–30)


CourtSpeak: Adkins v. Children’s Hospital
of the District of Columbia
Minimum Wage Case (1923)

Justice George Sutherland (majority): “That the right to contract about one’s affairs is a part of the liberty of the individual protected by this clause is settled by the decisions of this court and is no longer open to question. Within this liberty to contract are contracts of employment of labor. In making such contracts, generally speaking, the parties have an equal right to obtain from each other the best terms they can as the result of private bargaining.”

Chief Justice William Howard Taft (dissenting): “Legislatures in limiting freedom of contract between employee and employer by a minimum wage proceed on the assumption that employees, in the class receiving least pay, are not upon a full level of equality of choice with their employer and in their necessitous circumstances are prone to accept pretty much anything that is offered. They are peculiarly subject to the overreaching of the harsh and petty employer. The evils of the sweating system and of the long hours and low wages which are characteristic of it are well known.”

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (dissenting): “It will need more than the Nineteenth Amendment to convince me that there are no differences between men and women, or that legislation cannot take those differences into account.”


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