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COPPAGE v. KANSAS 236 U.S. 1 (1915)

In Adair v. United States (1908), the Supreme Court had held that the section of the erdman act that outlawed yellow dog contracts was outside Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce. Now, facing a question "not distinguishable in principle," a 6–3 Court struck down a Kansas statute banning yellow dog contracts. Justice mahlon pitney for the majority, finding no reason to depart from Adair, reaffirmed the doctrine of freedom of contract. That "fundamental and vital" freedom fused rights of liberty and property so that any "arbitrary interference with that freedom of contract would impair those rights." Only a "legitimate" exercise of state police power could limit it, and the majority could see no relation between the avowed purpose of the statute and the state's responsibility to protect the safety, morals, and health of its citizens. Indeed, "an interference with the normal exercise of personal liberty and property rights is the primary object of the statute." Concluding that it deprived employers and employees of the right to contract freely on their own terms, the majority voided the statute as a violation of substantive due process guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment.

In a brief dissent, Justice oliver wendell holmes reiterated the position he had stated in lochner v. new york (1905). He saw nothing in the Constitution forbidding the Kansas statute, and he declined to substitute the courts' judgment for the legislature's on this policy question. In a lengthier dissent joined by Justice charles evans hughes, Justice william r. day, who had voted with the majority in Adair, asserted that Kansas had enacted the statute to promote the general welfare, thereby validly limiting the freedom of contract.

David Gordon
(1986)

Coppage v. Kansas 236 U.S. 1 (1915)

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