Adkins v. Children’s Hospital

women's work

Because women and children were entering the workforce, Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923) said minimum wage legislation was unconstitutional.

Here’s the facts of this case. This case was brought by Jesse C. Adkins (Petitioner) and the Children’s Hospital of DC (Respondent). Basically, after a minimum wage law was passed in 1918, District of Washington DC wanted all employers to pay minimum wage to women and children. Eventually, the DC Children’s Hospital obtained an injunction in the appellate court to prevent the enforcement of the statute. The facts made it to the Supreme Court.

This was the issue before the Supreme Court: Is the minimum wage statute for women and children unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court ruled this way: In citing Lochner v. New York (1905), the Supreme Court said the minimum wage legislation for women and children violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

In 1923, Lochner v. New York was the law. Lochner said, Congress couldn’t pass a law which limited work to sixty hours a week. Furthermore, under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Due Process Clause included the liberty of contract.

The Adkins case followed precedent set down in the Lochner case. Lochner said the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process contained a right to freedom of contract; that being said, the minimum wage law imposed limits on the freedom of contract, so the Supreme Court struck down the law. Atkins was consistent with the Lochner case ruling.

Essentially, Adkins was a protectionist case. At this time, women and children were undercutting men in the workplace. This law took away women’s and children’s competitive edge in the workplace.

In the past, Muller v. Oregon (1908) limited women’s working hours, which is considered sex discrimination case. In Muller, the state had an interest in women’s health; therefore, women weren’t allowed to work long hours. Moreover, this ruling was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Eventually, West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937) would allow minimum wage legislation. As a response to the depression, FDR would pass laws which allowed minimum wage. The West Coast case started the New Deal cases.

To conclude, Adkins struck down minimum wage legislation for woman and children. Meanwhile, this case was consistent with Lochner v. New York. However, at heart, Adkins was a protectionist case; nevertheless, it would be overturned in the New Deal era.