SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The White Court (1910 - 1921)


OOOOFor each opinion, the author's name name is given first and in full, the following justices joining in the opinion. Concurring or separate opinions are those which agree with the result of the Court's opinion but differ with the reasoning, larger implications, or simply wish to add an aspect not touched on by the Court. Dissenting opinions, of course, are those which disagree with the Court's ruling. There may even be several dissenting opinions, depending on the nature of the several justices' disagreement.

1914 Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383
Justice William R. Day
OOOIn Weeks the Court ruled that seizure of evidence from a defendant's home without a search warrant violated the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. Evidence so gathered had to be returned to the defendant and could not be used at trial. Weeks applied only to Federal courts. The restrictions of the 4th Amendment would not be applied to state courts until 1961 with Mapp v. Ohio.

1917 Bunting v. Oregon, 234 U.S. 426
Justice Joseph McKenna, J. Holmes, J. Day. J Pitney, J Clark
Dissent: C.J. White, J. Van Devanter, J. McReynolds
J. Brandeis did not take part in the proceedings.
OOOThe case involved an Oregon labor law limiting working hours in certain industries to ten hours, allowing an extra three hours if the employer paid the employee time and a half for the extra time. Bunting, an employer in a flour mill, was fined fifty dollars for requiring thirteen hours of work from an employee without paying the extra wages. He appealed his conviction based on the argument that the law was not an hour law, but a wage law, and that as such it was an illegal taking of his property - the extra money in the form of wages - by the state without due process: a violation of the 14th amendment.
OOOThe Court upheld his conviction. McKenna found that the wage provision was incidental to the intent of the law, which was to regulate hours for the health of the worker - a legitimate use of Oregon's police power.
OOOBunting was among the first cases which indicated a loosening of the tight strictures of Lochner, though the evolution of laws regulating labor would remain halting and inconsistent for another twenty years.

1918 Hammer v. Dagenhart, 247 U.S. 251
Justice William R. Day, C.J. White, J. Van Deventer, J. Pitney, J. McReynolds
Dissent: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, J. McKenna, J Brandeis, J. Clarke
OOOUnlike Bunting [above] which addressed a state's power to regulate its internal affairs, Hammer addressed the commerce power of the federal government; specifically, a law passed by Congress forbidding the interstate transportation of goods produced by children under the age of fourteen, or those between fourteen and sixteen working during certain hours.
OOOThe majority struck down the law as an unconstitutional infringement of the states' power to regulate thier own internal affairs. They pointed out that the law was clearly intended to prohibit a certain method of manufacture, not to regulate commerce, per se, and that in doing so it crossed the critical barrier between commerce - a matter for Congress under Art 1, § 8 of the Constitution - and manufacture - a matter for the police power of the states to regulate as they saw fit. To the argument, backed by numerous cases, that Congress had always had power to regulate the interstate transport of certain products for purposes of health, safety or morality, the majority answered that in those cases it was the product that was the problem, not its mode of manufacture. In the present case, specifically the manufacture of cotton, there was no question of the quality or safety of the product.
OOOIn dissent, Holmes brushed aside the majority's distinctions as irrelevant. He argued that whatever the effect of the law - intended or otherwise - on manufacturing within a state or states, Congress had an exclusive and plenary right to regulate interstate commerce as it saw fit. As he wrote: "The question, then, is narrowed to whether the exercise of its otherwise constitutional power by Congress can be pronounced unconstitutional because of its possible reaction upon the conduct of the States in a matter upon which I have admitted that they are free from direct control. I should have thought that that matter had been disposed of so fully as to leave no room for doubt. I should have thought that the most conspicuous decisions of this Court had made it clear that the power to regulate commerce and other constitutional powers could not be cut down or qualified by the fact that it might interfere with the carrying out of the domestic policy of any State."
OOOHolmes' dissent represents the trajectory of future decisions on the commerce power of Congress.

1919 Atlantic Coastline R.R. Co. v. City of Goldsboro, 232 U.S. 548
Justice Mahlon Pitney
OOOAtlantic Coastline, which owned a right-of-way 130 ft wide running down the center of Goldsboro, brought suit to restrain the enforcement of certain ordinances passed by the city regulating its property. Atlantic contended that the nature of the ordinances violated the conditions of its charter, i.e. impaired a contract, and deprived it of property without due process, both violations of the 14th Amendment.
OOOPitney first established, over the objections of Atlantic Coastline, that municipal ordinances are "legislation enacted by virtue of the lawmaking power of the state". That said, they carry with them the police power of the state to regulate its internal affairs especially those respecting the welfare of the community. He observed: "For it is settled that neither the 'contract' clause nor the 'due process' clause has the effect of overriding the power of the state to establish all regulations that are reasonably necessary to secure the health, safety, good order, comfort, or general welfare of the community; that this power can neither be abdicated nor bargained away, and is inalienable even by express grant; and that all contract and property rights are held subject to its fair exercise". More
over he wrote that, "...the enforcement of uncompensated obedience to a regulation established under this power for the public health or safety is not an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation or without due process of law". It remained only for the city to demonstrate that its ordinances were both reasonable and appropriate to the purposes of ensuring the health and safety of the community, which Pitney decided they had done. Judgement was for the city.
OOOThe decision represents a further shift away from the high-water mark of the sanctity of contracts which captivated the court during the final years of the previous century and both harkens back to decisions like Taney's Charles River Bridge and the coming decisions upholding the reform legislation of the New Deal.

1919 Schenk v. United States, 249 U.S. 47
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
OOOSchenkwas the first important free speech case decided by the Supreme Court.
OOOSchenk, a Socialist, was prosecuted for violating § 3 of the Espionage Act of 1917 which, inter alia, made it illegal to "...willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States..." Schenk's crime was the publishing and dissemination of pamphlets advocating refusal of and interference with the draft then in effect for World War I. Schenk appealed on the basis of his rights under the First Amendment.
OOOHolmes, writing for the majority, upheld the conviction. Holmes found, first, that there was no doubt Schenk was responsible for the pamphlets, and that his intent in printing and distributing them was precisely what the law forbad. As to Schenk's First Amendment rights, Holmes allowed that under conditions of peace, Schenk may have been protected by them; "But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done....The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic....The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right."
OOOIn Schenk, Holmes was the first to use the crowded theater metaphor, and was the first to articulate for the Court the "clear and present danger" test for limitations on speech.

1919 Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616
Justice John H. Clarke
Dissent: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
OOOAbrams closely followed and paralleled the Schenk case above. Like Schenk, Abrams was a Socialist and a pamphleteer, though Abrams' advocated the interruption of work in American munitions factories, another violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. Clarke, writing for the majority, and following lines of reasoning very similar to Holmes' in Schenk, upheld Abrams' conviction. This time, however, Holmes dissented.
OOOHis dissent turned on what he believed was Abrams' intent, and what level of intent was necessary for prosecution. Holmes pointed out that, as amended in 1918, the Espionage Act required that acts or words advocating work stoppages in munitions factories had to carry the intent " cripple or hinder the United States in the prosecution of the war." Holmes pointed out that Abrams' intent, as a Socialist, was simply to prevent America's interference with the then on-going Russian Revolution as a consequence of the war with Germany, not to directly interfer with the war effort itself. Allowing that Abrams knew his advocacy, if successful, would be likely to have the prohibited result, it was still crucial to Holmes that that was not Abrams intent: "...a deed is not done with intent to produce a consequence unless that consequence is the aim of the deed." Holmes concluded with respect to intent that, taking the Act strictly as written, as he thought it should be, Abrams was not guilty. Finally, it was also his opnion that Abrams' efforts - what Holmes called a "silly leaflet" - did not represent a clear and present danger
OOOHolmes' dissent is also famous for what it said about free speech and the 1st Amendment. "Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition....But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment....Only the emergency that makes it immediately dangerous to leave the correction of evil counsels to time warrants making any exception to the sweeping command, 'Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.' "