When Congress acts in such manner as to manifest its
constitutional authority in regard to interstate commerce, the
regulating power of the state ceases to exist, and if there is
conflict between state and federal legislation the former must give
After Congress acts on a matter within its exclusive
jurisdiction, there is no division of the field of regulation.
Regulation of the railroads is not a mere wanton exercise of
power, but a restriction upon their management induced by public
interest and safety, and so held
that the Hours of Service
Act of 1907 is the judgment of Congress of the necessary extent of
such restrictions as to employees engaged in interstate commerce
which admits of no supplementary regulation by any of the
Provisions in the Labor Law of New York of 1907 relating to the
hours of service of railroad telegraph operators engaged in
interstate commerce are void insofar as they attempt to regulate
interstate commerce, as Congress had completely covered the field
by the Hours of Service Act of 1907, although that act did not take
effect until March, 1908. Northern Pacific Railway Railway Co.
v. Washington, 222 U. S. 370
Where the state court did not decide that a general law amounted
to a repeal or alteration of the charter of a corporation, the
contention that it did so decide cannot be founded on an expression
of personal opinion to that effect of the judge writing the
and not decided in this case, whether it is
competent for a state, through its power, to alter or repeal
charters of railroads incorporated under its laws so as to displace
or share the jurisdiction of Congress over interstate commerce.
Judgment based on 198 N.Y. 369 reversed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the
Fourteenth Amendment of the eight-hour provisions of the New York
Labor Law of 1907 as applied to railroads,
Page 233 U. S. 672
Page 233 U. S. 675
engaged in interstate commerce, are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.
Action for penalty, brought by the people of the State of New
York against defendant in error, herein called the railroad
company, for an alleged violation of the Labor Law of the state,
entitled, "An Act in Relation to Labor, Constituting Chapter
Thirty-two of the General Laws," as amended by Chapter 627 of the
Laws of 1907. [Footnote 1
Page 233 U. S. 676
It is alleged that, at the times hereinafter mentioned, the
railroad company was a corporation under the laws of the State of
New York, and was and is operating a line of railroad in the State
of New York, in Rockland County and
Page 233 U. S. 677
other counties, extending from Piermont to Dunkirk, both in that
The following facts are also alleged: the railroad company, in
violation of § 7-a
of the Labor Law, required and
permitted one David Henion, a telegraph operator, to be on duty
more than eight hours -- that is, from 7 o'clock, a.m. to 7
o'clock, p.m., on the first day of November, 1907, in the railroad
company's tower at Sterlington, in the County of Rockland, New
York, there being no extraordinary emergency caused by accident,
fire, flood, or danger to life or property.
His duty was to space trains by the use of the telegraph under
what is known and termed the "block system," and to report trains
to another office or offices and to train dispatchers, whose duties
pertain to the movement of cars, engines, and trains on the
company's railroad by the use of the telegraph.
There passed over the tracks of the railroad company on the day
named more than eight regular passenger trains each way.
Judgment is prayed in the sum of $100.
The answer of the railroad company admits its incorporation and
that it is operating a railroad as alleged, but alleges that its
road extends from Jersey City, New Jersey, to Suffern, New York,
and from Salamanca, New York, to Marion, State of Ohio, and
elsewhere, passing through New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and
Ohio, and that at all times mentioned in the complaint it was and
is now engaged in interstate commerce and the transportation of
persons, goods, and merchandise by railroad from one state of the
United States to other states of the United States, and to foreign
Page 233 U. S. 678
It admits that the company required and permitted Henion to work
as charged, but alleges that the cars, engines, and trains that he
was engaged in spacing and reporting were engaged in interstate
That the Labor Law of the state violates the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as
applied to Henion and other employees in the same class of work, in
that it deprives both the railroad company and Henion of the
liberty of contract and of property without due process of law, and
of the equal protection of the laws.
The answer also set up in defense the federal "Hours of Service"
Act approved March 4, 1907, in force one year after its passage (34
Stat. 1415, c. 2939), entitled, "An Act to Promote the Safety of
Employees and Travelers upon Railroads by Limiting the Hours of
Service of Employees Thereon."
The law, among other things, authorizes the employment of
employees such as Henion was, for nine hours in twenty-four-hour
periods when employed night and day, and for thirteen hours when
employed only during the daytime, and, in case of extraordinary
emergency, to be on duty for four additional hours in such period
on not exceeding three days in any week. [Footnote 2
Page 233 U. S. 679
The answer also alleges that the jurisdiction of Congress is
exclusive, and that the Labor Law of 1907 is in excess of the power
of the Legislature of the State of New York, and unconstitutional
and void, in that it is an attempt to regulate commerce between the
A jury was waived and the case tried by the court, which found
the facts as alleged in the complaint, and that, upon the trains
which passed the tower at Sterlington, there
"were passengers whose journey commenced and ended in the State
of New York, and did not extend into any other state, and some of
said trains carrying passengers and property from one point to
another in the State of New York."
As a conclusion of law, the court found that the railroad
company violated the law, had incurred a penalty of $100 by so
doing, and that § 7-a
of the law "is valid and its
provisions do not violate and are not in conflict with the
Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State
of New York."
Upon the request of the railroad company, the court also found
the facts of the interstate character of the railroad as alleged in
the answer, and that Henion was employed as alleged, and found a
number of other facts concerning the manner of operating the "block
system" and the duties of Henion. There were also findings relative
to the Labor Law, the penal law, so called, and the Act of Congress
of March 4, 1907. The findings only serve to emphasize the defenses
of the company, and need not be set out at length.
The court also made the following findings:
"That at all times mentioned in the complaint or hereinafter
mentioned, the defendant was, and now is, engaged in interstate
commerce and the transportation of persons,
Page 233 U. S. 680
goods, and merchandise by railroad from one State of the United
States to other states of the United States."
"On that day [the day Henion was employed], there were fourteen
eastbound and twelve westbound passenger trains, and twelve
eastbound and fifteen westbound freight trains, which passed the
Sterlington tower during said twelve hours."
"On November 1st, 1907, a majority of the trains which the said
David Henion was engaged in spacing and reporting were engaged in
interstate commerce or in the transportation of passengers,
persons, or property from one state to another."
The court refused to find
"That on November 1, 1907, said David Henion, in the performance
of his duties, was an employee of the defendant, engaged in
The court further found that the effect of the Labor Law "was
materially to increase the cost to the Erie Railroad Company of
operating the Block System.'"
Judgment was entered for the penalty sued for. It was reversed
by the appellate division, and a new trial granted, the court
deciding that the jurisdiction of the subject matter was
exclusively in Congress, and was exercised by the Hours of Service
Law of March 4, 1907.
The Court of Appeals reversed the action of the appellate
division and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The Court of
Appeals rested its decision on three propositions: (1) The Labor
Law of the state was a legal exercise of the police power of the
state. (2) There was no conflict between it and the Act of Congress
of March 4, 1907. "The state," the court said,
"has simply supplemented the action of the federal authorities.
It is the same as if Congress had enacted that the classes of
employees named might be employed for nine hours or less, and the
state had then fixed the lesser number, which was left open by the
federal statute. The form of the latter
Page 233 U. S. 681
fixed the outside limit, but not expressly legalizing employment
up to that limit, fairly seems to have invited and to have left the
subject open for supplemental state legislation if necessary."
(3) A statute does not become controlling until it actually
becomes operative, and that therefore, even if it should be decided
that there was a conflict between the federal and the state
legislation after the former became effective, as the act of
Congress did not take effect until March 4, 1908, in the meantime,
the state law was in operation.
The propositions decided by the Court of Appeals express the
contentions made here by defendant in error, and they are attempted
to be supported by a citation of a number of cases in which this
Court has sustained legislation by the states more or less
affecting interstate commerce. A review of them is unnecessary.
Whatever difficulty may otherwise have been in the questions
presented by the record has been met and overcome by decisions more
apposite than the cited cases. The relative supremacy of the state
and national power over interstate commerce need not be commented
upon. Where there is conflict, the state legislation must give way.
Indeed, when Congress acts in such a way as to manifest its purpose
to exercise its constitutional authority, the regulating power of
the state ceases to exist. Adams Express Co. v. Croninger,
226 U. S. 491
cases cited. Also Chicago, R.I. & Pac. Ry. Co. v. Hardwick
Elevator Co., 226 U. S. 426
Chicago Ind. & L. Ry. Co. v. Hackett, 228 U.
; McDermott v. Wisconsin, 228 U.
; Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.
; Taylor v. Taylor, 232 U.
This is the general principle. It was given application to an
instance like that in the case at bar in Northern Pacific Ry.
v. Washington, 222 U. S. 370
case arose upon an asserted conflict between the Hours of Service
Law of March 4, 1907, the one involved here, and a law of the State
of Washington which also regulated the hours
Page 233 U. S. 682
of railway employees. The latter became effective June 12, 1907
-- that is, before the time the Federal Hours of Service Law was in
force, but after its enactment. The state act resembled the federal
act, and prohibited the consecutive hours of service which had
taken place on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and on account of
which the action was brought by the attorney general of the state
against the company for the penalties prescribed for violation of
the act. The railroad company admitted the facts, but denied
liability under the act, asserting that its train was an interstate
train, and was not subject to the control of the state because
within the exclusive control of Congress on that subject. The trial
court granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which was
affirmed by the supreme court of the state. That court held that
the train was an interstate train, and conceded that Congress might
prescribe the number of consecutive hours an employee of a carrier
so engaged should be required to remain on duty, and, when it is so
legislated upon the subject, its act superseded any and all state
legislation on that particular subject. But the court held that the
act of Congress did not apply, because of its provision that it
should not take effect until one year after its passage, and until
such time, it should be treated as not existing.
We reversed the judgment on the ground that the view expressed
was not "compatible with the paramount power of Congress over
interstate commerce," and we considered it elementary that the
police power of the state could only exist from the silence of
Congress upon the subject, and ceased when Congress acted or
manifested its purpose to call into play its exclusive power. It
was further said that the mere fact of the enactment of the Act of
March 4, 1907, was a manifestation of the will of Congress to bring
the subject within its control, and to reason that, because
Congress chose to make its prohibitions take effect only after a
year, it was intended to leave the subject to state
Page 233 U. S. 683
power was to cause the act of Congress to destroy itself. There
was no conceivable reason, it was said, for postponing the
prohibitions if it was contemplated that the state law should apply
in the meantime. The reason for the postponement, it was pointed
out, was to enable the railroads to meet the new conditions.
The reasoning of the opinion and the decision oppose the
contention of defendant in error and of the Court of Appeals that
the state law and the federal law can stand together, because, as
expressed by the Court of Appeals, "the state has simply
supplemented the action of the federal authorities," and, on
account of special conditions prevailing within its limits, has
raised the limit of safety, and the form of the federal statute,
not expressly legalizing employment up to that limit, fairly
seems to have invited and to have left the subject open for
supplemental state legislation if necessary.
We realize the strength of these observations, but they put out
of view, we think, the ground of decision of the cases, and,
indeed, the necessary condition of the supremacy of the
congressional power. It is not that there may be division of the
field of regulation, but an exclusive occupation of it when
Congress manifests a purpose to enter it.
Regulation is not intended to be a mere wanton exercise of
power. It is a restriction upon the management of the railroads. It
is induced by the public interest or safety, and the "Hours of
Service" law of March 4, 1907, is the judgment of Congress of the
extent of the restriction necessary. It admits of no supplement; it
is the prescribed measure of what is necessary and sufficient for
the public safety, and of the cost and burden which the railroad
must endure to secure it.
Defendant in error attempts to distinguish Northern Pacific
Railroad Co. v. Washington
on the ground that the state was
dealing with a corporation organized
Page 233 U. S. 684
under the laws of another state, and the State of Washington had
no power to alter or repeal its charter. This power, it is
contended, the State of New York has over the Erie Railroad, and
exercised the power in the law under review, and that the Court of
Appeals has so decided. It is asserted besides, that Henion was not
engaged in interstate commerce. These assertions are not justified.
The Court of Appeals did not decide that the Labor Law constituted
an alteration or repeal of the charter of the company. The learned
judge who delivered the opinion of the court expressed such to be
his view, saying that "if the statute violated is a valid exercise
of the power, personally." he was
"not doubtful that, under its reserved control over
corporations, the legislature might pass such an act in regulation
of the performance of the business for which a railroad was
It is clear that the learned judge did not express the views of
the court. We have no doubt that, if the court entertained such
view, it would have been declared. It would have been a direct,
and, from the standpoint of the state, and adequate, solution of
the questions involved, and would have made unnecessary the
elaborate consideration of the extent of the police power of the
state and its coincident exercise and adjustment with congressional
power of regulation. The contention of defendant in error therefore
has not the foundation asserted for it, and we may pass it without
further comment, not considering whether it is competent for a
state, through its power to alter or repeal the charter of
railroads incorporated under its laws, to displace or share the
jurisdiction of Congress over interstate commerce.
The assertion that Henion was not engaged in interstate commerce
is also without foundation, and is, besides, precluded by the
opinion of the Court of Appeals. The interstate character of the
business was recognized by the court, and the law considered in
view of such recognition. The
Page 233 U. S. 685
"that the Labor Law purports and attempts, indiscriminately and
inseparably, to regulate the hours of the classes of employees
designated, whether engaged in interstate or local traffic, and
that therefore its validity must be tested by the power of the
legislature over the former."
The trial court, it is true, undertook to make a distinction
between the interstate business of the railroad and Henion's
duties, but, in view of the cases which we have cited, and of the
decision of the appellate division and of the Court of Appeals, the
distinction is untenable. Balt. & Ohio R. Co. v. Interstate
Commerce Commission, 221 U. S. 612
Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U. S.
Judgment reversed and cause remanded for further proceedings
not inconsistent with this opinion.
"SECTION 1. Chapter 415 of the laws of 1897, entitled, 'An Act
in Relation to Labor, Constituting Chapter Thirty-two of the
General Laws,' is hereby amended by adding a new section after § 7
thereof, to be § 7-a,
to read as follows:"
" SECTION 7-a.
Regulation of hours of labor of
block-system telegraph and telephone operators and signalmen on
surface, subway, and elevated railroads. -- The provisions of
section seven of this chapter shall not be applicable to employees
mentioned therein. It shall be unlawful for any corporation or
receiver operating a line of railroad, either surface, subway, or
elevated in whole or in part in the State of New York, or any
officer, agent, or representative of such corporation or receiver,
to require or permit any telegraph or telephone operator who spaces
trains by the use of the telegraph or telephone under what is known
and termed the 'block system' (defined as follows): reporting
trains to another office or offices or to a train dispatcher
operating one or more trains under signals, and telegraph or
telephone levermen who manipulate interlocking machines in railroad
yards or on main tracks out on the lines, or train dispatchers in
its service whose duties substantially, as hereinbefore set forth,
pertain to the movement of cars, engines, or trains on its railroad
by the use of the telegraph or telephone in dispatching or
reporting trains or receiving or transmitting train orders as
interpreted in this section, to be on duty for more than eight
hours in a day of twenty-four hours, and it is hereby declared that
eight hours shall constitute a day of employment for all laborers
or employees engaged in the kind of labor aforesaid, except in
cases of extraordinary emergency caused by accident, fire, flood,
or danger to life or property, and for each hour of labor so
performed in any one day in excess of such eight hours, by any such
employee, he shall be paid in addition at least one eighth of his
daily compensation. Any person or persons, company or corporation,
who shall violate any of the provisions of this section shall, on
conviction, be fined in the sum not less than $100, and such fine
shall be recovered by an action in the name of the State of New
York, for the use of the state, which shall sue for it against such
person, corporation, or association violating this act, said suit
to be instituted in any court in this state having appropriate
jurisdiction. Such fine, when recovered as aforesaid, shall be paid
without any deduction whatever, one-half thereof to the informer
and the balance thereof to be paid into the free school fund of the
State of New York. The provisions of this act shall not apply to
any part of a railroad where not more than eight regular passenger
trains in twenty-four hours pass each way; provided, moreover,
that, where twenty freight trains pass each way generally in each
twenty-four hours, then the provisions of this act shall apply,
notwithstanding that there may pass a less number of passenger
trains than hereinbefore set forth, namely, eight."
"SECTION 2. This act shall take effect October 1st.1907."
"SEC. 2. That it shall be unlawful for any common carrier, its
officers, or agents, subject to this act, to require or permit any
employee subject to this act to be or remain on duty for a longer
period than sixteen consecutive hours. . . ."
"Provided, That no operator, train dispatcher, or other employee
who, by the use of the telegraph or telephone, dispatches, reports,
transmits, receives, or delivers orders pertaining to or affecting
train movements, shall be required or permitted to be or remain on
duty for a longer period than nine hours in any twenty-four-hour
period in all towers, offices, places, and stations continuously
operated night and day, nor for a longer period than thirteen hours
in all towers, offices, places, and stations operated only during
the daytime, except in case of emergency, when the employees named
in this proviso may be permitted to be and remain on duty for four
additional hours in a twenty-four-hour period on not exceeding
three days in any week. . . ."