208 U.S. 412 (1908), 107, Muller v. Oregon

Docket Nº:No. 107
Citation:208 U.S. 412, 28 S.Ct. 324, 52 L.Ed. 551
Party Name:Muller v. Oregon
Case Date:February 24, 1908
Court:United States Supreme Court

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208 U.S. 412 (1908)

28 S.Ct. 324, 52 L.Ed. 551




No. 107

United States Supreme Court

February 24, 1908

Argued January 15, 1908



The peculiar value of a written constitution is that it places, in unchanging form, limitations upon legislative action, questions relating to which are not settled by even a consensus of public opinion; but when the extent of one of those limitations is affected by a question of fact which is debatable and debated, a widespread and long continued belief concerning that fact is worthy of consideration.

This Court takes judicial cognizance of all matters of general knowledge -- such as the fact that woman's physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage which justifies a difference in legislation in regard to some of the burdens which rest upon her.

As healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical wellbeing of woman is an object of public interest. The regulation of her hour of labor falls within the police power of the State, and a statute directed exclusively to such regulation does not conflict with the due process or equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The right of a State to regulate the working hours of women rests on the police power and the right to preserve the health of the women of the State, and is not affected by other laws of the State granting or denying to women the same rights as to contract and the elective franchise as are enjoyed by men.

While the general liberty to contract in regard to one's business and the sale of one's labor is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, that liberty is subject to proper restrictions under the police power of the State.

The statute of Oregon of 1903 providing that no female shall work in certain establishments more than ten hour a day is not unconstitutional so far as respects laundries.

48 Oregon, 252, affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the statute

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of Oregon limiting the hours of employment of women, are stated in the opinion.

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BREWER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court:

On February 19, 1903, the legislature of the State of Oregon passed an act (Session Laws 1903, p. 148) the first section of which is in these words:

SEC. 1. That no female [shall] be employed in any mechanical establishment, or factory, or laundry in this State more than ten hours during any one day. The hours of work may be so arranged as to permit the employment of females

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at any time so that they shall not work more than ten hours during the twenty-four hours of any one day.

Sec. 3 made a violation of the provisions of the prior sections a misdemeanor subject to a fine of not less than $10 nor more than $25. On September 18, 1905, an information was filed in the circuit court of the State for the County of Multnomah, charging that the defendant

on the 4th day of September, A.D. 1905, in the county of Multnomah and State of Oregon, then and there being the owner of a laundry, known as the Grand Laundry, in the city of Portland, [28 S.Ct. 325] and the employer of females therein, did then and there unlawfully permit and suffer one Joe Haselbock, he, the said Joe Haselbock, then and there being an overseer, superintendent, and agent of said Curt Muller, in the said Grand Laundry, to require a female, to-wit, one Mrs. E. Gotcher, to work more than ten hours in said laundry on said 4th day of September, A.D. 1905, contrary to the statutes in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State of Oregon.

A trial resulted in a verdict against the defendant, who was sentenced to pay a fine of $10. The Supreme Court of the State affirmed the conviction, State v. Muller, 48 Oregon 252, whereupon the case was brought here on writ of error.

The single question is the constitutionality of the statute under which the defendant was convicted so far as it affects the work of a female in a laundry. That it does not conflict with any provisions of the state constitution is settled by the decision of the Supreme Court of the State. The contentions of the defendant, now plaintiff in error, are thus stated in his brief:

(1) Because the statute attempts to prevent persons sui juris from making their own contracts, and thus violates the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, as follows:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

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(2) Because the statute does not apply equally to all persons similarly situated, and is class legislation.

(3) The statute is not a valid exercise of the police power. The kinds of work prescribed are not unlawful, nor are they declared to be immoral or dangerous to the public health; nor can such a law be sustained on the ground that it is designed to protect women on account of their sex. There is no necessary or reasonable connection between the limitation prescribed by the act and the public health, safety, or welfare.

It is the law of Oregon that women, whether married or single, have equal contractual and personal rights with men. As said by Chief Justice Wolverton in First National Bank v. Leonard, 36 Oregon 390, 396, after a review of the various statutes of the State upon the subject:

We may therefore say with perfect confidence that, with these three sections upon the statute book, the wife can deal not only with her separate property, acquired from whatever source, in the same manner as her husband can with property belonging to him, but that she may make contracts and incur liabilities, and the same may be enforced against her, the same as if she were a femme sole. There is now no residuum of civil disability resting upon her which is not recognized as existing against the husband. The current runs steadily and strongly in the direction of the emancipation of the wife, and the policy, as disclosed by all recent legislation upon the subject in this State, is to place her upon the same footing as if she were a femme sole not only with respect to her...

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