Stephen J. Field: Opinion in Munn v. Illinois

(1877)

Stephen J. Field joined the U.S. Supreme Court in 1863, when American society was experiencing sweeping changes. Early in his tenure, issues arising from the Civil War and Reconstruction dominated the Court’s docket. The emergence of a new industrial order and large-scale corporate enterprises were also raising novel constitutional questions. The justices grappled with increased regulation of the economy in a constitutional system committed to private property and limited government. A central question was the extent to which the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) altered the federal-state balance and protected economic freedom from state regulation. Field was a champion of individual liberty, which in his mind included entrepreneurial freedom. Anxious to safeguard liberty by confining the reach of government, he insisted that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected substantive rights. Substantive due process meant that there were certain individual rights,...

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Stephen J. Field (Library of Congress)

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