Bunting v. Oregon 243 U.S. 426 (1917)

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BUNTING v. OREGON 243 U.S. 426 (1917)

This decision upheld maximum hour legislation and approved state regulations of overtime wages as a proper exception to the prevailing constitutional standards of freedom of contract. a 1913 oregon law prescribed a ten-hour day for men and women alike, thus expanding the law regulating women's hours which had been upheld in muller v. oregon (1908). In addition, the measure required time and a half wages for overtime up to three hours per day. Justice joseph mckenna's opinion for the 5–3 majority (there was no written dissent) assumed the validity of the working hours regulations, thus ignoring lochner v. new york (1905) as well as Justice david j. brewer's careful distinction in Muller that the status of women required special legislative concern. Lawyers for Bunting had attacked the law for its wage-fixing provisions and had invoked Lochner and Muller to demonstrate that the Oregon statute had no reasonable relation to the preservation of public health. McKenna, focusing on the overtime provision, denied that it was a regulation of wages. The statute, he contended, was designed as an hours law, and the Court was reluctant to consider it as a "disguise" for illegal purposes. Somewhat ingenuously, McKenna argued that the overtime provision was permissive and that its purpose was to burden and deter employers from using workers for more than ten hours. He admitted that the requirement for overtime might not attain that end, "but its insufficiency cannot change its character from penalty to permission." The Oregon Supreme Court had construed the overtime provision as reflecting a legislative desire to make the ten-hour day standard; beyond that, McKenna and his colleagues were not willing to inquire into legislative motive.

Bunting provided frail support in behalf of wage legislation. A few weeks later, the Court split 4–4 on Oregon's minimum wage law (stettler v. o ' hara), but in 1923 the Court struck down such legislation in adkins v. children ' s hospital.

Stanley I. Kutler


Mason, Alpheus T. 1946 Brandeis: A Free Man's Life. New York: Viking Press.