An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

Washington State imposed a minimum wage for women and children, but not for men. Elsie Parrish worked as a chambermaid at the West Coast Hotel in Wenatchee, Washington. Her employer failed to pay her the minimum wage, and she filed suit to recover back pay. The hotel’s owner argued that the labor regulation deprived him of the liberty of contract without due process of law.

Over the previous three decades, the Supreme Court had decided several cases concerning economic liberty for women. In Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Court upheld a law that limited the hours women could work. The law was deemed reasonable because of the “physical differences between men and women.” However, fifteen years later, in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923), the Court declared unconstitutional a minimum-wage law for women. The federal statute violated the liberty of contract protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Thirteen years later, in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo (1936), the Court reaffirmed Adkins. The 5-4 decision found that New York’s minimum-wage law for women was unconstitutional. In that case, Justice Roberts joined the Four Horsemen. Critically, how- ever, in Morehead the Court was not asked to overrule Adkins.

But in West Coast Hotel, Elsie Parrish asked the Court to expressly overrule Adkins.

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