The Fuller Court (1888–1910)
In what famous, oft-criticized decision did the Fuller Court strike down a 10-hour workday for New York bakers?
The Fuller Court ruled 5–4 in Lochner v. New York that a state law limiting employers to a 10-hour workday and a 60-hour workweek for their employees violated an employer’s liberty of contract rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The dispute arose after Utica-based bakery owner Joseph Lochner allegedly worked employee Aman Schmitter longer than 60 hours a week.
This violated an 1897 New York law that imposed the work-hour limitations to protect the health and safety of workers, many of whom toiled in less than savory conditions. A sharply divided Court struck down the law, finding it a violation of the employer’s liberty of contract: “There is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty or person or the right of free contract, by determining the hours of labor, in the occupation of a baker.” The Court majority, in an opinion written by Justice Rufus Peckham, reasoned that the state had failed to show that the measure was necessary to further the health and safety of the workers: “There is, in our judgment, no reasonable foundation for holding this to be necessary or appropriate as a health law to safeguard the public health, or the health of the individuals who are following the trade of a baker.”