The validity of police regulations depends upon the
circumstances of each case, whether arbitrary or reasonable and
whether really designed to accomplish a legitimate public purpose.
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Ry. Co. v. Drainage
Commissioners, 200 U. S.
The power of the state extends to so dealing with conditions
existing in the state as to bring out of them the greatest welfare
of its people. Bacon v. Walker, 204 U.
Police power is but another name for the power of government; it
is subject only to constitutional limitations which allow a
comprehensive range of judgment, and it is the province of the
state to adopt by its legislature such policy as it deems best.
Legislation cannot be judged by theoretical standards, but must
be tested by the concrete conditions inducing it.
A state may, as a police regulation, make assignments of future
wages invalid except under conditions that will properly restrict
extravagance and improvidence of wage-earners.
A state may, under conditions justifying it, prescribe that an
assignment by a married man of wages to be earned by him in future
shall be invalid unless consented to by his wife.
This Court recognizes the propriety of deferring to tribunals on
the spot, and will not oppose its notions of necessity to
legislation adopted to accomplish a legitimate public purpose.
Laurel Hill Cemetery v. San Francisco, 216 U.
A state has power to prescribe the form and manner of execution
Page 222 U. S. 226
authentication of legal instruments in regard to property, its
devolution and transfer. Arnett v. Reade, 220 U.
There are many legal restrictions that may be placed by a state
on the liberty of contract, and this Court will not interfere
except in a clear case of abuse of power. Chicago, Burlington
& Quincy R. Co. v. McGuire, 219 U.
The legislature of a state has a wide range of discretion in
classifying objects of legislation, and even if the classification
be not scientifically nor logically appropriate, if it is not
palpably arbitrary and is uniform within the class, it does not
deny equal protection.
Legislation may recognize degrees of evil without denying equal
protection of the laws.
The statute of Massachusetts making invalid assignments for
security for debts of less than $200 of wages to be earned unless
accepted in writing by the employer, consented to by the wife of
the assignor, and filed in a public office, is not unconstitutional
as depriving the borrower or the lender of his property without due
process of law, nor is it unconstitutional as denying equal
protection of the law because certain classes of financial
institutions are exempted from its provisions. It is a legitimate
exercise of the police power, and there is a basis for the
200 Mass. 482 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the validity under the Fourteenth
Amendment of a statute of Massachusetts in regard to assignments of
wages as security for loans, are stated in the opinion.
Page 222 U. S. 231
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question in the case is the validity, under the Fourteenth
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, of a statute of
the State of Massachusetts, which (§ 7) makes invalid against the
employer of a person any assignment of or order for wages to be
earned in the future, to secure a loan of less than $200 until the
assignment or order be accepted in writing by the employer, and the
assignment or order and acceptance be filed and recorded with the
clerk of the city or town in the place of residence or employment,
according as the person making the assignment be or be not a
resident of the commonwealth. If such person be married, the
written consent of his wife must be attached to the assignment or
order. (Section 8.) National banks and banks which are under the
supervision of the bank commissioner, and certain loan companies,
are exempt from the provisions of the act. (Section 6.)
Page 222 U. S. 232
The action is in contract on two promissory notes given by two
different persons, with an assignment by each of wages to be earned
in the future in the defendant's service (defendant in error here,
and we will so designate him, and the plaintiff in error as
plaintiff). The assignments were duly recorded, but were not
accepted in writing by defendant. The assignor in the second
assignment was a married man whose wife did not consent to the
Judgment was entered in the superior court for the defendant,
which was affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
200 Mass. 482.
The contention of plaintiff is (1) that the provisions of §§ 7
and 8 deprive it of due process of law, and (2) that § 6 deprives
it of the equal protection of the laws.
(1) To sustain this contention, it is urged that, the statute
being an exercise of the police power of the state, its purpose
must have "some clear, real, and substantial connection" with the
preservation of the public health, safety, morals, or general
welfare, and it is insisted that the statute of Massachusetts has
not such connection, and is therefore invalid.
This Court has had many occasions to define, in general terms,
the police power, and to give particularity to the definitions by
special applications. In Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Ry.
Co. v. Illinois, 200 U. S. 561
200 U. S. 592
it was said that
"the police power of a state embraces regulations designed to
promote the public convenience or the general prosperity, as well
as regulations designed to promote the public health, the public
morals, or the public safety,"
and that the validity of a police regulation
"must depend upon the circumstances of each case and the
character of the regulation, whether arbitrary or reasonable and
whether really designed to accomplish a legitimate public
In Bacon v. Walker, 204 U. S. 311
204 U. S. 318
it was decided that the police power is not confined "to the
Page 222 U. S. 233
of what is offensive, disorderly, or unsanitary," but "extends
to so dealing with the conditions which exist in the state as to
bring out of them the greatest welfare of its people."
In a sense, the police power is but another name for the power
of government, and a contention that a particular exercise of it
offends the due process clause of the Constitution is apt to be
very intangible to a precise consideration and answer. Certain
general principles, however, must be taken for granted. It is
certainly the province of the state, by its legislature, to adopt
such policy as to it seems best. There are constitutional
limitations, of course, but these allow a very comprehensive range
of judgment. And within that range, the Massachusetts statute can
be justified. Legislation cannot be judged by theoretical
standards. It must be tested by the concrete conditions which
induced it, and this test was applied by the Supreme Judicial Court
of Massachusetts in passing on the validity of the statute under
The court hesitated to say, as at least one court has said, that
a total prohibition of the assignment of wages would be valid, but
justified the partial restriction of the statute on the ground that
the extravagance or improvidence of the wage earner might tempt to
the disposition of wages to be earned, and he and his family,
deprived of the means of support, might become a public charge. It
was pointed out, besides, that his need might be taken advantage of
by the unscrupulous. The purposes of the statute are certainly
assisted by the formalities which it prescribes as requisite to the
validity of an assignment. The requirement that it (the assignment)
be accepted in writing by the employer, it was pointed out,
protects him and secures the assignment from dispute, and the
requirement that the acceptance and the assignment be recorded
checks an attempt of the wage earner to procure a dishonest
Page 222 U. S. 234
The court found more difficulty with the provision which
requires the consent of the wage earner's wife to the assignment,
but justified it on the general considerations we have mentioned
and on the ground of her interest in the right use of his wages,
though she have no legal title in them.
We cannot say, therefore, that the statute as a police
regulation is arbitrary and unreasonable and not designed to
accomplish a legitimate public purpose. We certainly cannot oppose
to the legislation our notions of its necessity, and we have
expressed "the propriety of deferring to the tribunals on the
spot." Laurel Hill Cemetery v. San Francisco, 216 U.
, 216 U. S.
There are other grounds upon which the statute may be sustained
than those expressed by the Supreme Judicial Court of the state. As
we have seen, it does not prohibit assignments of wages to be
earned. It prescribes conditions to the validity of such
assignments, and in this it has many examples in legislation. It
has the same general foundation that laws have which prescribe the
evidence of transactions and the manner of the execution and
authentication of legal instruments. The laws of the states exhibit
in their diversities the power of the legislature over property,
its devolution and transfer. It is rather late in the day to
question that power. See Arnett v. Reade, 220 U.
But if we consider the Massachusetts statute strictly as a
limitation upon the power of contract, it still must be held valid.
A statute not unlike it came before this Court in Knoxville
Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U. S. 13
was a statute of the State of Tennessee, and required the
redemption in cash of any store orders or other evidence of
indebtedness issued by employers in payment of wages due to
employees. It was assailed as an arbitrary interference with the
right of contract. It was sustained as a proper exercise of the
power of the state.
Page 222 U. S. 235
There must, indeed, be a certain freedom of contract, and, as
there cannot be a precise verbal expression of the limitations of
it, arguments against any particular limitation may have plausible
strength, and yet many legal restrictions have been and must be put
upon such freedom in adapting human laws to human conduct and
necessities. A too precise reasoning should not be exercised, and,
before this Court may interfere, there must be a clear case of
abuse of power. See Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. Co. v.
McGuire, 219 U. S. 549
where the right of contract and its limitation by the legislature
are fully discussed.
(2) This contention attacks § 6 of the statute, which exempts
from its provisions certain banks, banking institutions, and loan
companies. It is urged that the provision is discriminatory, and
therefore denies to plaintiff the equal protection of the laws.
We have declared so often the wide range of discretion which the
legislature possesses in classifying the objects of its legislation
that we may be excused from a citation of the cases. We shall only
repeat that the classification need not be scientific nor logically
appropriate, and if not palpably arbitrary, and is uniform within
the class, it is within such discretion. The legislation under
review was directed at certain evils which had arisen, and the
legislature, considering them and from whence they arose, might
have thought or discerned that they could not or would not arise
from a greater freedom to the institutions mentioned than to
individuals. This was the view that the Supreme Judicial Court
took, and, we think, rightly took. The court said that the
legislature might have decided that the dangers which the statute
was intended to prevent would not exist in any considerable degree
in loans made by institutions which were under the supervision of
bank commissioners, and "believed rightly that the business done by
them would not need regulation in the interest
Page 222 U. S. 236
of employees or employers," citing State v.
64 A. 273, a decision by the Supreme Court of
Delaware. See Engel v. O'Malley, 219 U.
But even if some degree of evil which the statute was intended
to prevent could be ascribed to loans made by the exempted
institutions, their exception would not make the law
unconstitutional. Legislation may recognize degrees of evil without
being arbitrary, unreasonable, or in conflict with the equal
protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States. Ozan Lumber Co. v. Union
Bank, 207 U. S. 251
Heath & Milligan Co. v. Worst, 207 U.
This Court sustained a classification like that of the
Massachusetts statute in Griffith v. Connecticut,
218 U. S. 563
where a statute of Connecticut which fixed maximum rates of
interest upon money loaned within the state to persons subject to
its jurisdiction was upheld as a valid exercise of the police power
of the state, and a provision of the statute which exempted from
its operation "any national bank or trust company duly incorporated
under the laws of the state, and pawnbrokers," was decided to be a