208 U.S. 161 (1908), 293, Adair v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 293
Citation:208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436
Party Name:Adair v. United States
Case Date:January 27, 1908
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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208 U.S. 161 (1908)

28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436

Adair

v.

United States

No. 293

United States Supreme Court

January 27, 1908

Argued October 29, 30, 1907

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY

Syllabus

It is not within the power of Congress to make it a criminal offense against the United States for a carrier engaged in interstate commerce, or an agent or officer thereof, to discharge an employee simply because of his membership in a labor organization, and the provision to that effect in § 10 of the act of June 1, 1898, 30 Stat. 424, concerning interstate carriers is an invasion of personal liberty, as well as of the right of property, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and is therefore unenforceable as repugnant to the declaration of that amendment that no person shall be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law.

While the rights of liberty and property guaranteed by the Constitution against deprivation without due process of law, are subject to such reasonable restrictions as the common good or general welfare may require, it is not within the functions of government -- at least in the absence of contract -- to compel any person in the course of his business, and against his will, either to employ, or be employed by, another. An employer has the same right to prescribe terms on which he will employ one to labor as an employee has to prescribe those on which he will sell his labor, and any legislation which disturbs this equality is an arbitrary and unjustifiable interference with liberty of contract.

Quare, and not decided, whether it is within the power of Congress to make it a criminal offense against the United States for either an employer engaged in interstate commerce or his employee to disregard, without sufficient notice or excuse, the terms of a valid labor contract.

The power to regulate interstate commerce is the power to prescribe rules by which such commerce must be governed, but the rules prescribed must have a real and substantial relation to, or connection with, the commerce regulated, and as that relation does not exist between the membership of an employee in a labor organization and the interstate commerce with which he is connected, the provision above referred to in § 10 of the act of June 1, 1898 cannot be sustained as a regulation of interstate commerce, and, as such, within the competency of Congress.

The power to regulate interstate commerce, while great and paramount, cannot be exerted in violation of any fundamental right secured by other provisions of the National Constitution.

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The provision above referred to, in 10 of the act of June 1, 1898, is severable, and it unconstitutionality may not affect other provision of the act or provisions of that section thereof.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of § 10 of the act of Congress concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce (known as the Erdman Act), passed June 1, 1898, c. 370, 30 Stat. 424, are stated in the opinion.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This case involves the constitutionality of certain provisions of the act of Congress of June 1, 1898, 30 Stat. 424, c. 370,

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concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce and their employes.

By the first section of the act, it is provided:

That the provisions of this act shall apply to any common carrier or carriers and their officers, agents, and employes, except masters of vessels and seamen, as defined in section 4612, Revised Statutes of the United States, engaged in the transportation of passengers or property wholly by railroad, or partly by railroad and partly by water, for a continuous carriage or shipment, from one State or Territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia, to any other State or Territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia, or from any place in the United States to an adjacent foreign country, or from any place in the United States through a foreign country to any other place in the United States. The term "railroad" as used in this act shall include all bridges and ferries used or operated in connection with any railroad, and also all the road in use by any corporation operating a railroad, whether owned or operated under a contract, agreement or lease, and the term "transportation" shall include all instrumentalities of shipment or carriage. The term "employees" as used in this act shall include all persons actually engaged in any capacity in train operation or train service of any description, and notwithstanding that the cars upon or in which they are employed may be held and operated by the carrier under lease or other contract: Provided, however, That this act shall not be held to apply to employees of street railroads and shall apply only to employees engaged in railroad train service. In every such case the carrier shall be responsible for the acts and defaults of such employees in the same manner and to the same extent as if said cars were owned by it and said employees directly employed by it, and any provisions to the contrary of any such lease or other contract shall be binding only as between the parties thereto and shall not affect the obligations of said carrier either to the public or to the private parties concerned.

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The 2d 3d 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th sections relate to the settlement, by means of arbitration, of controversies concerning wages, hours of labor, or conditions of employment arising between a carrier subject to the provisions of the act and its employees, which seriously interrupt or [28 S.Ct. 278] threaten to interrupt the business of the carrier. Those sections prescribe the mode in which controversies may be brought under the cognizance of arbitrators, in what way the arbitrators may be designated, and the effect of their decisions. The first subdivision of § 3 contains a proviso "that no employee shall be compelled to render personal service without his consent."

The 11th section relates to the compensation and expenses of the arbitrators.

By the 12th section the act of Congress of October 1, 1888, 25 Stat. 501, c. 1063, creating boards of arbitrators or commissioners for settling controversies and differences between railroad corporations and other common carriers engaged in interstate or territorial transportation of persons or property and their employees, was repealed.

The 10th section, upon which the present prosecution is based, is in these words:

That any employer subject to the provisions of this act and any officer, agent, or receiver of such employer, who shall require any employee, or any person seeking employment, as a condition of such employment, to enter into an agreement, either written or verbal, not to become or remain a member of any labor corporation, association, or organization; or shall threaten any employee with loss of employment, or shall unjustly discriminate against any employee because of his membership in such a labor corporation, association, or organization; or who shall require any employee or any person seeking employment, as a condition of such employment, to enter into a contract whereby such employee or applicant for employment shall agree to contribute to any fund for charitable, social, or beneficial purposes; to release such employer from legal liability for any personal injury by reason of any benefit received from

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such fund beyond the proportion of the benefit arising from the employer's contribution to such fund; or who shall, after having discharged an employee, attempt or conspire to prevent such employee from obtaining employment, or who shall, after the quitting of an employee, attempt or conspire to prevent such employee from obtaining employment, is hereby declared to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof in any court of the United States of competent jurisdiction in the district in which such offense was committed, shall be punished for each offense by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than one thousand dollars.

It may be observed in passing that, while that section makes it a crime against the United States to unjustly discriminate against an employee of an interstate carrier because of his being a member of a labor organization, it does not make it a crime to unjustly discriminate against an employee of the carrier because of his not being a member of such an organization.

The present indictment was in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Kentucky against the defendant Adair.

The first count alleged

that at and before the time hereinafter named, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company is and was a railroad corporation, duly organized and existing by law and a common carrier engaged in the transportation of passengers and property wholly by steam railroad for a continuous carriage and shipment from one State of the United States to another State of the United States of America, that is to say, from the State of Kentucky into the States of Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, and from the State of Ohio into the State of Kentucky, and was at all times aforesaid and at the time of the commission of the offense hereinafter named, a common carrier of interstate commerce, and an employer, subject to the provisions of a certain act of Congress of the United States of America, entitled, "An Act concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce and their employees," approved Junc 1, 1898, and said corporation was not at any

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time a street railroad corporation. That before and at the time of the commission...

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