Annotation 23 - Fourteenth Amendment


Other Business and Employment Relations

Labor Relations .--Objections to labor legislation on the ground that the limitation of particular regulations to specified industries was obnoxious to the equal protection clause have been consistently overruled. Statutes limiting hours of labor for employees in mines, smelters, 265 mills, factories, 266 or on public works 267 have been sustained. And a statute forbidding persons engaged in mining and manufacturing to issue orders for payment of labor unless redeemable at face value in cash was similarly held unobjectionable. 268 The exemption of mines employing less than ten persons from a law pertaining to measurement of coal to determine a miner's wages is not unreasonable. 269 All corporations 270 or public service corporations 271 may be required to issue to employees who leave their service letters stating the nature of the service and the cause of leaving even though other employers are not so required.

Industries may be classified in a workmen's compensation act according to the respective hazards of each, 272 and the exemption of farm laborers and domestic servants does not render such an act invalid. 273 A statute providing that no person shall be denied opportunity for employment because he is not a member of a labor union does not offend the equal protection clause. 274 At a time when protective labor legislation generally was falling under ''liberty of contract'' applications of the due process clause, the Court generally approved protective legislation directed solely to women workers 275 and this solicitude continued into present times in the approval of laws which were more questionable, 276 but passage of the sex discrimination provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has generally called into question all such protective legislation addressed solely to women. 277  

Monopolies and Unfair Trade Practices .--On the principle that the law may hit the evil where it is most felt, state antitrust laws applicable to corporations but not to individuals, 278 or to vendors of commodities but not to vendors of labor, 279 have been upheld. Contrary to its earlier view, the Court now holds that an antitrust act which exempts agricultural products in the hands of the producer is valid. 280 Diversity with respect to penalties also has been sustained. Corporations violating the law may be proceeded against by bill in equity, while individuals are indicted and tried. 281 A provision, superimposed upon the general antitrust law, for revocation of the licenses of fire insurance companies that enter into illegal combinations, does not violate the equal protection clause. 282 A grant of monopoly privileges, if otherwise an appropriate exercise of the police power, is immune to attack under that clause. 283 Likewise, enforcement of an unfair sales act, whereby merchants are privileged to give trading stamps, worth two and one-half percent of the price, with goods sold at or near statutory cost, while a competing merchant, not issuing stamps, is precluded from making an equivalent price reduction, effects no discrimination. There is a reasonable basis for concluding that destructive, deceptive competition results from selective loss- leader selling whereas such abuses do not attend issuance of trading stamps ''across the board,'' as a discount for payment in cash. 284  

Administrative Discretion .--A municipal ordinance which vests in supervisory authorities a naked and arbitrary power to grant or withhold consent to the operation of laundries in wooden buildings, without consideration of the circumstances of individual cases, constitutes a denial of equal protection of the law when consent is withheld from certain persons solely on the basis of nationality. 285 But a city council may reserve to itself the power to make exceptions from a ban on the operation of a dairy within the city, 286 or from building line restrictions. 287 Written permission of the mayor or president of the city council may be required before any person shall move a building on a street. 288 The mayor may be empowered to determine whether an applicant has a good character and reputation and is a suitable person to receive a license for the sale of cigarettes. 289 In a later case, 290 the Court held that the unfettered discretion of river pilots to select their apprentices, which was almost invariably exercised in favor of their relatives and friends, was not a denial of equal protection to persons not selected despite the fact that such apprenticeship was requisite for appointment as a pilot.

Social Welfare .--The traditional ''reasonable basis'' standard of equal protection adjudication developed in the main in cases involving state regulation of business and industry. ''The administration of public welfare assistance, by contrast, involves the most basic economic needs of impoverished human beings. We recognize the dramatically real factual difference between the cited cases and this one, but we can find no basis for applying a different constitutional standard.'' 291 Thus, a formula for dispensing aid to dependent children which imposed an upper limit on the amount one family could receive, regardless of the number of children in the family, so that the more children in a family the less money per child was received, was found to be rationally related to the legitimate state interest in encouraging employment and in maintaining an equitable balance between welfare families and the families of the working poor. 292 Similarly, a state welfare assistance formula which, after calculation of individual need, provided less of the determined amount to families with dependent children than to those persons in the aged and infirm categories did not violate equal protection because a State could reasonably believe that the aged and infirm are the least able to bear the hardships of an inadequate standard of living, and that the apportionment of limited funds was therefore rational. 293 While reiterating that this standard of review is ''not a toothless one,'' the Court has nonetheless sustained a variety of distinctions on the basis that Congress could rationally have believed them justified, 294 acting to invalidate a provision only once and then on the premise that Congress was actuated by an improper purpose. 295  

Similarly, the Court has rejected the contention that access to housing, despite its great importance, is of any fundamental interest which would place a bar upon the legislature's giving landlords a much more favorable and summary process of judicially-controlled eviction actions than was available in other kinds of litigation. 296  

However, a statute which prohibited the dispensing of contraceptive devices to single persons for birth control but not for disease prevention purposes and which contained no limitation on dispensation to married persons was held to violate the equal protection clause on several grounds. On the basis of the right infringed by the limitation, the Court saw no rational basis for the State to distinguish between married and unmarried persons. Similarly, the exemption from the prohibition for purposes of disease prevention nullified the argument that the rational basis for the law was the deterrence of fornication, the rationality of which the Court doubted in any case. 297 Also denying equal protection was a law afford ing married parents, divorced parents, and unmarried mothers an opportunity to be heard with regard to the issue of their fitness to continue or to take custody of their children, an opportunity the Court decided was mandated by due process, but presuming the unfitness of the unmarried father and giving him no hearing. 298  

Punishment of Crime .--Equality of protection under the law implies that in the administration of criminal justice no person shall be subject to any greater or different punishment than another in similar circumstances. 299 Comparative gravity of criminal offenses is, however, largely a matter of state discretion, and the fact that some offenses are punished with less severity than others does not deny equal protection. 300 Heavier penalties may be imposed upon habitual criminals for like offenses, 301 even after a pardon for an earlier offense, 302 and such persons may be made ineligible for parole. 303 A state law doubling the sentence on prisoners attempting to escape does not deny equal protection by subjecting prisoners who attempt to escape together to different sentences depending on their original sentences. 304  

A statute denying state prisoners good time credit for presentence incarceration but permitting those prisoners who obtain bail or other release immediately to receive good time credit for the entire period which they ultimately spend in custody, good time counting toward the date of eligibility for parole, does not deny the prisoners incarcerated in local jails equal protection inasmuch as the distinction is rationally justified by the fact that good time credit is designed to encourage prisoners to engage in rehabilitation courses and activities which exist only in state prisons and not in local jails. 305  

The equal protection clause does, however, render invalid a statute requiring the sterilization of persons convicted of various offenses when the statute draws a line between like offenses, such as between larceny by fraud and embezzlement. 306 A statute which provided that convicted defendants sentenced to imprisonment must reimburse the State for the furnishing of free transcripts of their trial by having amounts deducted from prison pay denied such persons equal protection when it did not require reimbursement of those fined, given suspended sentences, or placed on probation. 307 Similarly, a statute enabling the State to recover the costs of such transcripts and other legal defense fees by a civil action was defective under the equal protection clause because indigent defendants against whom judgment was entered under the statute did not have the benefit of exemptions and benefits afforded other civil judgment debtors. 308 But a bail reform statute which provided for liberalized forms of release and which imposed the costs of operating the system upon one category of released defendants, generally those most indigent, was not invalid because the classification was rational and because the measure was in any event a substantial improvement upon the old bail system. 309 The Court in the last several years has applied the clause strictly to prohibit numerous de jure and de facto distinctions based on wealth or indigency. 310  


[Footnote 265] Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366 (1988).

[Footnote 266] Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426 (1917).

[Footnote 267] Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207 (1903).

[Footnote 268] Keokee Coke Co. v. Taylor, 234 U.S. 224 (1914). See also Knoxville Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U.S. 13 (1901).

[Footnote 269] McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.S. 539 (1909).

[Footnote 270] Prudential Ins. Co. v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530 (1922).

[Footnote 271] Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. v. Perry, 259 U.S. 548 (1922).

[Footnote 272] Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington, 243 U.S. 219 (1917).

[Footnote 273] New York Central R.R. v. White, 243 U.S. 188 (1917); Middletown v. Texas Power & Light Co., 249 U.S. 152 (1919); Ward & Gow v. Krinsky, 259 U.S. 503 (1922).

[Footnote 274] Lincoln Fed. Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525 (1949). Neither is it a denial of equal protection for a city to refuse to withhold from its employees' paychecks dues owing their union, although it withholds for taxes, retirement-insurance programs, saving programs, and certain charities, because its offered justification that its practice of allowing withholding only when it benefits all city or department employees is a legitimate method to avoid the burden of withholding money for all persons or organizations that request a checkoff. City of Charlotte v. Firefighters, 426 U.S. 283 (1976).

[Footnote 275] E.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908).

[Footnote 276] Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948).

[Footnote 277] Title VII, 78 Stat. 253, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e. On sex discrimination generally, see infra, pp. 1875-86.

[Footnote 278] Mallinckrodt Works v. St. Louis, 238 U.S. 41 (1915).

[Footnote 279] International Harvester Co. v. Missouri, 234 U.S. 199 (1914).

[Footnote 280] Tigner v. Texas, 310 U.S. 141 (1940) (overruling Connolly v. Union Sewer Pipe Co., 184 U.S. 540 (1902)).

[Footnote 281] Standard Oil Co. v. Tennessee, 217 U.S. 413 (1910).

[Footnote 282] Carroll v. Greenwich Ins. Co., 199 U.S. 401 (1905).

[Footnote 283] Pacific States Co. v. White, 296 U.S. 176 (1935); see also Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873): Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502, 529 (1934).

[Footnote 284] Safeway Stores v. Oklahoma Grocers, 360 U.S. 334, 339 -41 (1959).

[Footnote 285] Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886).

[Footnote 286] Fischer v. St. Louis, 194 U.S. 361 (1904).

[Footnote 287] Gorieb v. Fox, 274 U.S. 603 (1927).

[Footnote 288] Wilson v. Eureka City, 173 U.S. 32 (1899).

[Footnote 289] Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183 (1900).

[Footnote 290] Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Comm'rs, 330 U.S. 552 (1947).

[Footnote 291] Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485 (1970). Decisions respecting the rights of the indigent in the criminal process and dicta in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 627 (1969), had raised the prospect that because of the importance of ''food, shelter, and other necessities of life,'' classifications with an adverse or perhaps severe impact on the poor and needy would be subjected to a higher scrutiny. Dandridge was a rejection of this approach, which was more fully elaborated in another context in San Antonio School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 18 -29 (1973).

[Footnote 292] Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 483 -87 (1970).

[Footnote 293] Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535 (1972). See also Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78 (1971) (sustaining Social Security provision reducing disability benefits by amount received from worker's compensation but not that received from private insurance).

[Footnote 294] E.g., Mathews v. De Castro, 429 U.S. 181 (1976) (provision giving benefits to married woman under 62 with dependent children in her care whose husband retires or becomes disabled but denying benefits to divorced woman under 62 with dependents represents rational judgment with respect to likely dependency of married but not divorced women); Califano v. Boles, 443 U.S. 282 (1979) (limitation of benefits to widows and divorced wives of wage earners does not deny equal protection to mother of illegitimate child of wage earner who was never married to wage earner).

[Footnote 295] Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528 (1973) (also questioning rationality).

[Footnote 296] Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56 (1972). The Court did invalidate one provision of the law requiring tenants against whom an eviction judgment had been entered after a trial to post a bond in double the amout of rent to become due by the determination of the appeal, because it bore no reasonable relationship to any valid state objective and arbitrarily distinguished between defendants in eviction actions and defendants in other actions. Id. at 74-79.

[Footnote 297] Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972).

[Footnote 298] Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 658 (1972).

[Footnote 299] Pace v. Alabama, 106 U.S. 583 (1883). See Salzburg v. Maryland, 346 U.S. 545 (1954), sustaining law rendering illegally seized evidence inadmissible in prosecutions in state courts for misdemeanors but permitting use of such evidence in one county in prosecutions for certain gambling misdemeanors. Distinctions based on county areas were deemed reasonable. In North v. Russell, 427 U.S. 328 (1976), the Court sustained the provision of law-trained judges for some police courts and lay judges for others, depending upon the state constitutional classification of cities according to population, since as long as all people within each classified area are treated equally, the different classifications within the court system are justifiable.

[Footnote 300] Collins v. Johnston, 237 U.S. 502, 510 (1915); Pennsylvania v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51 (1937).

[Footnote 301] McDonald v. Massachusetts, 180 U.S. 311 (1901); Moore v. Missouri, 159 U.S. 673 (1895); Graham v. West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616 (1912).

[Footnote 302] Carlesi v. New York, 233 U.S. 51 (1914).

[Footnote 303] Ughbanks v. Armstrong, 208 U.S. 481 (1908).

[Footnote 304] Pennsylvania v. Ashe, 302 U.S. 51 (1937).

[Footnote 305] McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263 (1973). Cf. Hurtado v. United States, 410 U.S. 578 (1973).

[Footnote 306] Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535 (1942).

[Footnote 307] Rinaldi v. Yeager, 384 U.S. 305 (1966). But see Fuller v. Oregon, 417 U.S. 40 (1974) (imposition of reimbursement obligation for state-provided defense assistance upon convicted defendants but not upon those acquitted or whose convictions are reversed is objectively rational).

[Footnote 308] James v. Strange, 407 U.S. 128 (1972).

[Footnote 309] Schilb v. Kuebel, 404 U.S. 357 (1971).

[Footnote 310] Infra, pp. 1916-25.

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Constitutional rights are essential, but complex
  • These cases often involve government entities
  • An attorney can help protect your rights

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard