Argued April 15, 1918 and decided on June 3, 1918 was the next case in the forefront of child labor laws. This case was filed initially in North Carolina in the United States District Court. It was brought to the court by a father, Roland Dagenhart filing on behalf of his two sons Reuben and John who were employed on a cotton mill in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both of them were under sixteen years of age. Dagenhart’s law suit claimed that Congress had violated his sons’ freedom to work.
In response to Dagenhart’s claim, the United States District Court filed a response that stated the Dagenhart’s bill directly violated child labor laws that dealt with commerce from state to state as addressed two years prior by the Keating-Owen Act.
The first decision upheld by the District Court stated that the bill was unconstitutional. The District Court stated that Congress had violated numerous laws according to the Constitution. The violations were as follows the Commerce Clause, the Fifth Amendment and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
According to the District Court, Congress claims violated the Commere Act which is found in Article 1, Section 8 clause 3 which states “the congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” (4)
Secondly, they saw a breach of the Tenth Amendment which asserts “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (5)
The court’s last reservation claimed that Congress had violated the Fifth Amendment according to due process. Which clearly states, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be witness against himself, nor shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of; law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (6)
Many reformers and others were disheartened by the decision. As a result, John Davis and attorney, W.C. Hammer appealed the former decision therefore seeking assistance from the United States Supreme Court. Congress felt that they had a strong backing and compelling evidence based on the Constitution to support their claim. One of their key claims was that Congress has the power to regulate goods created by child labor because there was no one rule that blanketed all the states.
The Supreme Court was faced with answering the underlying question,does Congress have the right to police goods that are sold between states that were constructed by children under sixteen years old?
During this legal preceding there were nine justices in total, four of whom were Democrats and the five remaining were Republicans. The names of these Justices were Edward D. White, Joseph McKenna, Oliver W. Holmes Jr., Mahlon Pitney, James C. McReynolds, Louis Brandeis, John Clarke, Willis Van Devanter and William R. Day.
The final decision of the Supreme Court was given by William R. Day. The Court saw this act as unconstitutional. The decision recognized by the court stated Congress had stepped outside of their boundaries and that Congress misconstrued the interpretation of the Commerce Clause which was upheld in the Keating-Owen Act. The Supreme Court argued that in spite of children working in factories and canniers to produce goods that are exchanged between the states does not technically fit the confines of commerce. In view of that fact the Congress has the power to regulate trade but in this case, commerce is not the question when talking about the actual trade process because it does not involve the physical harm of children.
Open to various interpretations the Commerce Clause can be argued that commerce is defined not by the manufacturing, the making of products locally but by the shipment, the actual transportation of the manufactured goods which are shipped interstate. As stated in the previous case of Gibbons v. Ogden the power to regulate commerce is the power “to prescribe the rule by which commerce is governed” 7
To support their decision, Justice Day refers back to prior court cases such as Lackawanna & Western R.R. Co. v. Yurkonis, Kidd v. Pearson and New York v. Miln. All three of these cases were focused around the Commerce Clause. In Lackawanna & Western R.R. Co. the court established that coal mining is not defined under the terms of commerce. In the later two cases the same commerce clause cannot be redefined to include the regulation of goods made by child labor bas identified by individual states.
Regardless of Justice Day and the majority of the ruling there was a dissenting opinion. This difference of opinion came from Justice Holmes, Justice McKenna, Justice Brandeis and Justice Clarke all of whom concurred. Holmes argued that Congress acted on the basis that it has the right under the Constitution to disallow certain goods to be traded also known as prohibition. Hence, prohibition includes the use of child labor as represented by the Keating-Owen Act. Also, he disputed that according to the Constitution the Congress falls under the umbrella of being protected by the federal government to monitor commerce as identified in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.