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Essay on Adair v. U.S. and Coppage v. Kansas Analysis

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Adair v. U.S. and Coppage v. Kansas became two defining cases in the Lochner era, a period defined after the Supreme Court’s decision in Lochner v New York, where the court adopted a broad understanding of the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. In these cases the court used the substantive due process principle to determine whether a state statute or state’s policing power violated an individual’s freedom of contract. To gain a better understanding of the court’s reasoning it is essential to understand what they disregarded and how the rulings relate to the rulings in Plessy v. Ferguson, Lochner v. New York and Muller v. Oregon.
In 1898, congress passed the Erdman Act, which prohibited employers from firing employees based on if they join a union. An employer for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, William Adair, violated the statute by firing O.B. Coppage for his participation in a labor organization. The court, in a 6 to 2 vote, held that the statute not only violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, it also held that congress’s power over interstate commerce does not extend to memberships in unions. The court uses substantive due process to read into the Fifth Amendment the laborers and employers right to ‘liberty of contract,” which Justice Harlan points out by citing the similar ruling in Lochner. The court reads it as the right of individuals to enter into contracts to either purchase or sell labor, which the law violated by limiting the rights of both the employer and employee. The court also rejected the argument that the law was within congressional power under interstate commerce by stating no logical correlation between union memberships and how it would affect intersta...


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...where they are first seen in Lochner.
Holmes’s dissent in Lochner, criticizes the majority for essentially creating a new right through their substantive reading of the Fourteenth. The Court, by deeming the New York Bakeshop Act unconstitutional, does not take into account the beneficial qualities of the act. For example, protecting public health and welfare and providing proper working regulations for an industry that has a substantial need for it. The Court also overlooks the fact that the Act passed with a unanimous vote in the New York legislature. The decision is also an example of the court playing the role of the legislature by basing their decision not on law but on their own personal or political beliefs. The courts judicial activism becomes the main issue with the court’s decision in Lochner which greatly influences future decisions the court makes.



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