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Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918)


As industry expanded and immigrants poured into the country during the first decades of the 20th century, the number of children in the industrial workforce swelled. Children took jobs as miners, messengers, mill workers, and factory employees, and were often forced to work long hours under unsafe conditions for meager pay. By 1910, a majority of states had implemented laws regulating child labor and setting age minimums in the workplace, but concern over child labor persisted.

Viewing the issue as a matter of both morality and public welfare, Congress made several unsuccessful attempts to eradicate what it considered to be abusive child labor practices. Finally, in 1916, Congress passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Law Act. Because the federal government had no power to regulate working conditions within the states, it used its authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to indirectly influence child labor practices. The Keating-Owen Act prohibited manufacturers who relied on unreasonable child labor from transporting their products between states.

When the textile mill where Roland Dagenhart and his sons were employed refused to allow Dagenhart's 14-year-old son Reuben to work, Dagenhart turned to the courts. Contending that the Commerce Clause did not give Congress the authority to regulate manufacturers, and that the Tenth Amendment prevented the federal government from intervening in labor issues, Dagenhart and his attorneys argued that the Keating-Owen Act was unconstitutional.


In Hammer v. Dagenhart, the Supreme Court was charged with assessing both the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment with respect to the relative powers of federal and state governments. Hammer v. Dagenhart put this question before the Court: Does the authority vested in Congress to regulate commerce among the states allow it to enact legislation targeting manufacturing practices?

What did the majority rule in this case?