For the past two weeks, I’ve been discussing Lochner v. New York, the opinion, and the dissents. This week it’s time to take on the some analysis; both the once-prevalent view that, “Aside from Dred Scott itself, Lochner v. New York is now considered the most discredited decision in Supreme Court history” (A History of the Supreme Court by Bernard Schwartz, Oxford University Press, 1993. p. 190) and more recent efforts to “rehabilitate” Lochner.
Last week, the background leading to the Lochner v. New York lawsuit was discussed, as well as the decision of the majority which reversed the holdings of the county court, the New York Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeals. (Part One) Initially, the vote was 5-4 in favor of upholding the New York law, and Justice John Harlan wrote the draft opinion, while Justice Rufus Peckham wrote the draft dissent. Somewhere along the way, however, one justice changed their vote (most sources suggest it was Chief Justice Melville Fuller), and the opinion of Justice Harlan, with Justices Edward White and William Day concurring, became the dissent. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a separate dissent.
The true predecessor of Janus is Lochner v. New York, “the notorious 1905 decision that turbocharged the court’s pro-business interventions into health, safety, and economic regulation.”https://t.co/Q4hUsv5OwS
Like most non-lawyers, I struggle to understand the nuances of Supreme Court decisions, and I rely heavily on SCOTUSBlog (found here) to explain decisions in terms that I can understand. When the Janus v. AFSCME decision came down, followed by Justice Kennedy’s retirement announcement, I heard a lot of people talking about a return to the Lochner era. I had a vague recollection of the decision, but that mostly consisted of Lochner = bad. Today’s post is my IANAL attempt to provide an overview of the 1905 Lochner decision.