West Coast Hotel Co v Parrish Upholds Minimum Wage LawHistorical
In West Coast Hotel Co v Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the State of Washington’s minimum wage law for women. By a vote of 5-4, the Court held that the statute did not violate the liberty of contract under the Fourteenth Amendment, expressly overruling its prior decision in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital.
Facts of West Coast Hotel Co v Parrish
The case involved the constitutional validity of a minimum wage law of the State of Washington. The Act, entitled “Minimum Wages for Women,” set minimum wages for women and minors.
Elsie Parrish, who was employed as a chambermaid, filed suit to recover the difference between the wages paid her and the minimum wage fixed pursuant to the state law. The minimum wage was $14.50 per week for 48 hours. Her employer, West Coast Hotel Co., challenged the act as repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court of Washington, reversing the trial court, sustained the statute and directed judgment for the plaintiffs. It held that the minimum wage statute was a reasonable exercise of the police power of the state.
Majority Decision in West Coast Hotel Co v Parrish
The Supreme Court affirmed. Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes wrote on behalf of the majority. The Court acknowledged that deprivation of liberty to contract is forbidden by the Constitution if without due process of law. However, it held that “restraint or regulation of this liberty, if reasonable in relation to its subject and if adopted for the protection of the community against evils menacing the health, safety, morals and welfare of the people, is due process.”
In reaching its decision, the majority addressed when the deprivation of freedom of contract is permissible under the Constitution. As Chief Justice Hughes explained:
In each case the violation alleged by those attacking minimum wage regulation for women is deprivation of freedom of contract. What is this freedom? The Constitution does not speak of freedom of contract. It speaks of liberty and prohibits the deprivation of liberty without due process of law. In prohibiting that deprivation, the Constitution does not recognize an absolute and uncontrollable liberty. Liberty in each of its phases has its history and connotation. But the liberty safeguarded is liberty in a social organization which requires the protection of law against the evils which menace the health, safety, morals, and welfare of the people. Liberty under the Constitution is thus necessarily subject to the restraints of due process, and regulation which is reasonable in relation to its subject and is adopted in the interests of the community is due process.
Many attributed the Court’s dramatic shift in due process jurisprudence to political pressure. However, the justices actually voted on the case prior to President Roosevelt announcing his controversial “court-packing plan.”
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Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.