261 U.S. 525 (1923), Adkins v. Children's Hospital

Citation:261 U.S. 525, 43 S.Ct. 394, 67 L.Ed. 785
Party Name:Adkins v. Children's Hospital
Case Date:April 09, 1923
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 525

261 U.S. 525 (1923)

43 S.Ct. 394, 67 L.Ed. 785



Children's Hospital

United States Supreme Court

April 9, 1923




1. The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, while constituted of two of the three Justices of that court and one Justice of the Supreme Court of the District, affirmed decrees of the latter court dismissing bills; thereafter, at the same term, (the Supreme Court Justice having been replaced by the third Justice of the Court of Appeals) it granted rehearings and reversed the decrees, and, thereafter, on second appeals, it affirmed decrees entered pursuant to the reversals. Held that objections to the jurisdiction to grant the rehearings did not go to the jurisdiction over the second appeals, and need not be decided here upon review of the decrees of affirmance. P. 543.

2. Every possible presumption stands in favor of an act of Congress until overcome beyond rational doubt. P. 544.

3. But when, in the exercise of the judicial authority to ascertain and declare the law in a given case, it is clear and indubitable that an act of Congress conflicts with the Constitution, it is the duty of the Court so to declare, and to enforce the Constitution. Id.

4. This is not to exercise a power to review and nullify an act of Congress, for no such power exists; it is simply a necessary concomitant of the power to hear and dispose of a case or controversy properly before the court, to the determination of which must be brought the test and measure of the law. Id.

5. That the right to contract about one's affairs is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fifth Amendment, is settled by repeated decisions of this Court. P. 545.

6. Within this liberty are contracts of employment of labor. In making these, generally speaking, the parties have equal right to obtain from each other the best terms they can by private bargaining. Id.

Page 526

7. Legislative abridgment of this freedom can only be justified by the existence of exceptional circumstances. P. 546.

8. Review of former decisions concerning interferences with liberty of contract, by

(a) Statutes fixing the rates and charges of businesses affected by a public interest. P. 546.

(b) Statutes relating to the performance of contracts for public work. P. 547.

(c) Statutes prescribing the character, methods and time for payment of wages. Id.

(d) Statutes fixing hours of labor. Id.

9. Legislation fixing hours or conditions of work may properly take into account the physical differences between men and women; but, in view of the equality of legal status, now established in this country, the doctrine that women of mature age require, or may be subjected to, restrictions upon their liberty of contract which could not lawfully be imposed on men in similar circumstances, must be rejected. P. 552.

10. The limited legislative authority to regulate hours of labor in special occupations, on the ground of health, affords no support to a wage-fixing law -- the two subjects are essentially different. P. 553.

11. The Minimum Wage Act of Sept.19, 1918, c. 174, 40 Stat. 960, in assuming to authorize the fixing of minimum wage standards for adult women, in any occupation in the District of Columbia, such standards to be based wholly upon what a board and its advisers may find to be an adequate wage to meet the necessary cost of living for women workers in each particular calling and to maintain them in good health and protect their morals, is an unconstitutional interference with the liberty of contract. P. 554.

284 F. 613, affirmed.

APPEALS from decrees of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, affirming two decrees, entered, on mandate from that court, by the Supreme Court of the District, permanently enjoining the appellants from enforcing orders fixing minimum wages under the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act.

Page 539

SUTHERLAND, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented for determination by these appeals is the constitutionality of the Act of September 19, 1918, providing for the fixing of minimum wages for women and children in the District of Columbia. 40 Stat. 960, c. 174.

The act provides for a board of three members, to be constituted, as far as practicable, so as to be equally representative

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of employers, employees and the public. The board is authorized to have public hearings, at which persons interested in the matter being investigated may appear and testify, to administer oaths, issue subpoenas requiring the attendance of witnesses and production of books, etc., and to make rules and regulations for carrying the act into effect.

By § 8, the board is authorized --

(1) To investigate and ascertain the wages of women and minors in the different occupations in which they are employed in the District of Columbia; (2) to examine, through any member or authorized representative, any book, payroll or other record of any employer of women or minors that, in any way appertains to or has a bearing upon the question of wages of any such women or minors, and (3) to require from such employer full and true statements of the wages paid to all women and minors in his employment.

And by § 9,

to ascertain and declare, in the manner hereinafter provided, the following things: (a), Standards of minimum wages for women in any occupation within the District of Columbia, and what wages are inadequate to supply the necessary cost of living to any such women workers to maintain them in good health and to protect their morals, and (b), standards of minimum wages for minors in any occupation within the District of Columbia, and what wages are unreasonably low for any such minor workers.

The act then provides (§ 10) that, if the board, after investigation, is of opinion that any substantial number of women workers in any occupation are receiving wages inadequate to supply them with the necessary cost of living, maintain them in health and protect their morals, a conference may be called to consider and inquire into and report on the subject investigated, the conference to be equally representative of employers and employees in

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such occupation and of the public, and to include one or more members of the board.

The conference is required to make and transmit to the board a report including, among other things,

recommendations as to standards of minimum wages for women workers in the occupation under inquiry and as to what wages are inadequate to supply the necessary cost of living to women workers in such occupation and to maintain them in health and to protect their morals.

§ 11.

The board is authorized (§ 12) to consider and review these recommendations and to approve or disapprove any or all of them. If it approve any recommendations, it must give public notice of its intention and hold a public hearing at which the persons interested will be heard. After such hearing, the board is authorized to make such order as to it may appear necessary to carry into effect the recommendations, and to require all employers in the occupation affected to comply therewith. It is made unlawful for any such employer to violate in this regard any provision of the order or to employ any woman worker at lower wages than are thereby permitted.

There is a provision (§ 13) under which the board may issue a special license to a woman whose earning capacity "has been impaired by age or otherwise," authorizing her employment at less than the minimum wages fixed under the act.

All questions of fact (§ 17) are to be determined by the board, from whose decision there is no appeal; but an appeal is allowed on questions of law.

Any violation of the act (§ 18) by an employer or his agent or by corporate agents is declared to be a misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment.

Finally, after some further provisions not necessary to be stated, it is declared (§ 23) that the purposes of the act are

to protect the women and minors of the District

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from conditions detrimental to their health and morals, resulting from wages which are inadequate to maintain decent standards of living, and the Act in each of its provisions and in its entirety shall be interpreted to effectuate these purposes.

The appellee in the first case is a corporation maintaining a hospital for children in the District. It employs a large number of women in various capacities, with whom it had agreed upon rates of wages and compensation satisfactory to such employees, but which in some instances were less than the minimum wage fixed by an order of the board made in pursuance of the act. The women with whom appellee had so contracted were all of full age and under no legal disability. The instant suit was brought by the appellee in the Supreme Court of the District to restrain the board from enforcing or attempting to enforce its order on the ground that the same was in contravention of the Constitution, and particularly the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

[43 S.Ct. 396] In the second case, the appellee, a woman twenty-one years of age, was employed by the Congress Hall Hotel Company as an elevator operator, at a salary of $35 per month and two meals a day. She alleges that the work was light and healthful, the hours short, with surroundings clean and moral, and that she was anxious to continue it for the compensation she was receiving, and that she did not earn more. Her services were satisfactory to the Hotel Company, and it would have been glad to retain her but was obliged to dispense with her...

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