Hammer v. Dagenhart


In 1916 Congress passed the Child Labor Act, which prohibited transporting goods between states, where the goods had been produced by manufacturers using child labor.  Dagenhart, who worked in the factory at issue, would have been disallowed from working with his two sons in the factory and sued as a consequence.  His attorneys argued that the transportation of goods created by child labor between states did not constitute interstate commerce.  Therefore, the Congressionally passed Child Labor Act was invalid.  At trial, the district court agreed and halted its enforcement.  The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.


Whether Congress can constitutionally regulate child labor by outlawing the interstate sale of products produced using child labor.


No, decision upheld.  Congress may not regulate the transporting of goods made using child labor, but may regulate the interstate commerce of goods that are “inherently evil.”  Congress cannot specifically exclude goods under the interstate commerce clause, unless the goods directly fall under the federal government’s powers by their nature.  The come under the federal government’s purview by being inherently evil:  gambling, lottery, prostitution.  The manufacturing of products does not constitute as “commerce” as the constitution intends Congress to regulate.

In the instant case, the good manufactured was cotton – which was not at all inherently immoral.  The fact that some states chose to allow child labor and others did not (thus giving one state competitive advantage over another), does not make the manufacturing of cotton and federally regulatory offense.  The interstate commerce clause was not implemented to create fairness in competition between the states.  The states themselves have police powers, which are granted to them to regulate their own manufacturing and production of goods.  The powers not “expressly” granted to the federal government are left to the states.


The goods manufactured in one state and sold in another naturally fall under “interstate commerce.”  The logic that some goods are “inherently immoral” and therefore fall under congressional regulatory authority is incorrect.  What standard does the court have for determining what is “immoral,” such that child labor itself becomes “immoral.”

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