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Muller v. Oregon

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Muller v. Oregon

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued January 15, 1908

Decided February 24, 1908

Full case name: Curt Muller v. Oregon
Citations: 300 U.S. 379; 57 S. Ct. 578; 81 L. Ed. 703; 1937 U.S. LEXIS 1119; 1 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P17,021; 8 Ohio Op. 89; 108 A.L.R. 1330; 1 L.R.R.M. 754; 7 L.R.R.M. 754
Prior history: Defendant convicted; affirmed, 85 P. 855 (Or. 1906)
Subsequent history: none
Holding
Oregon's limit on the working hours of women was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, because it was justified by the strong state interest in protecting women's health. Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller
Associate Justices John Marshall Harlan, David J. Brewer, Edward D. White, Rufus Wheeler Peckham, Joseph McKenna, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Rufus Day, William H. Moody
Case opinions
Majority by: Brewer
Joined by: unanimous court
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. XIV; 1903 Or. Laws p. 148

Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) was a landmark decision in United States Supreme Court history, as it relates to both sex discrimination and labor laws. The case upheld Oregon state restrictions on the working hours of women as justified by the special state interest in protecting women's health.

Curt Muller, the owner of a laundry, was convicted of violating Oregon labor laws by requiring a female employee to work in excess of ten hours in a day, for which he was fined $10. Muller appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which upheld the constitutionality of the labor law and affirmed his conviction.

The case was decided a mere three years after Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), in which a New York law restricting the weekly working hours of bakers was invalidated. The Court had found that the regulation was not a reasonable regulation of the Due Process freedom of contract because the law was unnecessary to protect the health or safety of bakers.

The decision

In Justice David Josiah Brewer's unanimous opinion in Muller, however, the Court upheld the Oregon regulation. The Court did not overrule Lochner, but instead distinguished it on the basis of "the difference between the sexes." The child-bearing physiology and social role of women provided a strong state interest in reducing their working hours.

"That woman's physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence is obvious. This is especially true when the burdens of motherhood are upon her. Even when they are not, by abundant testimony of the medical fraternity continuance for a long time on her feet at work, repeating this from day to day, tends to injurious effects upon the body, and as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race." 208 U.S. at 421.

Future Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis, as additional counsel for the State of Oregon, filed a voluminous brief in support of the Oregon law that collected empirical data from hundreds of sources. In what became known as the "Brandeis Brief", the report provided social authorities on the issue of the impact of long working hours on women. This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations.

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