Adair v. United States
208 U.S. 161 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161 (1908)

Adair v. United States

No. 293

Argued October 29, 30, 1907

Decided January 27, 1908

208 U.S. 161

Syllabus

It is not within the power of Congress to make it a criminal offense against the United States for a carrier engaged in interstate commerce, or an agent or officer thereof, to discharge an employee simply because of his membership in a labor organization, and the provision to that effect in § 10 of the act of June 1, 1898, 30 Stat. 424, concerning interstate carriers is an invasion of personal liberty, as well as of the right of property, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and is therefore unenforceable as repugnant to the declaration of that amendment that no person shall be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law.

While the rights of liberty and property guaranteed by the Constitution against deprivation without due process of law, are subject to such reasonable restrictions as the common good or general welfare may require, it is not within the functions of government -- at least in the absence of contract -- to compel any person in the course of his business, and against his will, either to employ, or be employed by, another. An employer has the same right to prescribe terms on which he will employ one to labor as an employee has to prescribe those on which he will sell his labor, and any legislation which disturbs this equality is an arbitrary and unjustifiable interference with liberty of contract.

Quare, and not decided, whether it is within the power of Congress to make it a criminal offense against the United States for either an employer engaged in interstate commerce or his employee to disregard, without sufficient notice or excuse, the terms of a valid labor contract.

The power to regulate interstate commerce is the power to prescribe rules by which such commerce must be governed, but the rules prescribed must have a real and substantial relation to, or connection with, the commerce regulated, and as that relation does not exist between the membership of an employee in a labor organization and the interstate commerce with which he is connected, the provision above referred to in § 10 of the act of June 1, 1898 cannot be sustained as a regulation of interstate commerce, and, as such, within the competency of Congress.

The power to regulate interstate commerce, while great and paramount, cannot be exerted in violation of any fundamental right secured by other provisions of the National Constitution.

Page 208 U. S. 162

The provision above referred to, in 10 of the act of June 1, 1898, is severable, and it unconstitutionality may not affect other provision of the act or provisions of that section thereof.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of § 10 of the act of Congress concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce (known as the Erdman Act), passed June 1, 1898, c. 370, 30 Stat. 424, are stated in the opinion.

Page 208 U. S. 166

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