Hammer v. Dagenhart

(1918)

In Hammer v. Dagenhart, also known as the Child Labor Case, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1916 Keating-Owen Child Labor Act by the slimmest of margins. On its face, Hammer v. Dagenhart seemed an easy case given its subject matter, but the later discredited 5-to-4 decision demonstrated how resistant the Court under Chief Justice Edward Douglass White could be to the Progressive legislation of the day.

Roland Dagenhart, an employee at a cotton mill in Charlotte, North Carolina, sued his employer and W. C. Hammer, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, on behalf of himself and his minor sons, Reuben and John, who were also employed at the cotton mill. Dagenhart sought a reversal of Keating-Owen, a federal statute aimed at ending the exploitation of underage workers by prohibiting the sale through interstate commerce of goods made using child labor. The lower district court agreed with Dagenhart's argument that Keating-Owen interfered with his...

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A 1916 photo showing messenger boys on strike in New York City (Library of Congress)

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