Adkins v. Children Hospital of the District of Columbia Same v. Lyons, s. 795 and 796

Decision Date14 March 1923
Docket NumberNos. 795 and 796,s. 795 and 796
Citation24 A. L. R. 1238,43 S.Ct. 394,261 U.S. 525,67 L.Ed. 785
PartiesADKINS et al., Minimum Wage Board of District of Columbia, v. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. SAME v. LYONS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Felix Frankfurter, of Cambridge, Mass., and F. H. Stephens, of Washington, D. C., for appellants.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 526-535 intentionally omitted]

Page 535

Messrs. Wade H. Ellis and Challen B. Ellis, both of Washington, D. C., for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 535-539 intentionally omitted]

Page 539

Mr. Wm. L. Brewster, of Portland, Or., amicus curiae.

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 (Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, §§ 3421 1/2 a-3421 1/2 w).

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

Page 540

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 section 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, pay roll 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 section 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 (section 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

Page 541

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.'

The board is authorized (section 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 (section 13) under which the board may issue a special license to a woman whose earning capacity 'has been impaired by age or otherwise,' authorizin her employment at less than the minimum wages fixed under the act.

All questions of fact (section 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 (section 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 (section 23) that the purposes of the act are——

'To protect the women and minors of the District

Page 542

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.

In the second case the appellee, a woman 21 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 services by reason of the order of the board and on account of the penalties prescribed by the act. The wages received by this appellee were the best she was able to obtain for any work she was capable of performing, and the enforcement of the order, she alleges, deprived her of such employment and wages. She further averred that she could not secure any other position at which she could make a living, with

Page 543

as good physical and moral surroundings, and earn as good wages, and that she was desirous of continuing and would continue the employment, but for the order of the board. An injunction was prayed as in the other case.

The Supreme Court of the District denied the injunction and dismissed the bill in each case. Upon appeal the Court of Appeals by a majority first affirmed, and subsequently, on a rehearing, reversed, the trial court. Upon the first argument a justice of the District Supreme Court was called in to take the place of one of the appellate court justices, who was ill. Application for rehearing was made, and, by the court as thus constituted, was denied. Subsequently, and during the term, a rehearing was granted by an order concurred in by two of the appellate court justices, one being the justice whose place on the prior occasion had been filled by the Supreme Court member. Upon the rehearing thus granted, the Court of Appeals, rejecting the first opinion, held the act in question to be unconstitutional and reversed the decrees of the trial court. 284 Fed. 613. Thereupon the cases were remanded, and the trial court entered decrees in pursuance of the mandate, declaring the act in question to be unconstitutional and granting permanent injunctions. Appeals to the Court of Appeals followed, and the decrees on the trial court were affirmed. It is from these final decrees that the cases come here.

Upon this state of facts the jurisdiction of the lower court to rant a rehearing, after first denying it, is challenged. We do not deem it necessary to consider the matter farther than to say that we are here dealing with the second appeals, while the proceedings complained of occurred upon the first appeals. That the lower court could properly entertain the second appeals, and decide the cases does not admit of doubt; and this the appellants virtually concede by having themselves invoked the jurisdiction. See Rooker et al. v. Fidelity Trust Company et al., 261 U. S. 114, 43 Sup. Ct. 288, 67 L. Ed. ——, February 19, 1923.

Page 544

We come then, at once, to the substantive question involved.

The judicial duty of passing upon the constitutionality of an act of Congress is one of great gravity and delicacy. The statute here in question has successfully borne the scrutiny of the legislative branch of the government, which, by enacting it, has affirmed its validity, and that determination must be given great weight. This court, by an unbroken line of decisions from Chief Justice Marshall to the present day, has steadily adhered to the rule that every possible presumption is in favor of the validity of an act of Congress until overcome beyond rational doubt. But, if by clear and indubitable demonstration a statute be opposed to the Constitution, we have no choice but to say so. The Constitution, by its own terms, is the supreme law of the land, emanating from the people, the repository of ultimate sovereignty under our form of government. A congressional statute, on the other hand, is the act of an agency of this sovereign authority, and if it conflict with the Constitution must fall; for that which is not supreme must yield to...

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