Keating-Owen Act

In 1916, Congress created the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act as an attempt to regulate child labor. The controversial act was brought into play on the first of September 1916. This statute prohibited the transportation in interstate commerce of goods produced at factories that violated certain restrictions on child labor. Those restrictions included: employing children under the age of fourteen in any facility, employing children under the age of sixteen in mines, and permitting children under the age of sixteen to work at night or for more than eight hours a day.

The primary reason behind the passing of this bill can be linked to growth of industry in the early 20th century. The expansion of industry gave way to the need to have a workforce sufficient enough to fuel this quickly progressing development. A notable effect of this was the increased amount of children working in factories and mines. Often times these children would be forced to work in unsafe conditions for long periods of time and miniscule pay. Overtime, child labor became a matter of public concern and many states created laws to regulate it. However, child labor continued to be a major issue and eventually, Congress stepped in and attempted to pass some heavier laws. These initial laws pleaded to the immorality of child labor and matters of public safety, but they were unsuccessful. As a result, Congress decided to hit the states where it hurts: in their pockets. Since the federal government did not have direct power to regulate working conditions in the states, Congress used its authority under the Commerce Clause to try and indirectly impact child labor. Thus the Keating Owen Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. Despite the act being passed, not everyone felt that Congress had such authority and consequently, the act was challenged in the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) and the act was declared as unconstitutional.

As time went on, there were other various attempts to regulate child labor practices such as the Child Labor Tax Law of 1918, which attempted to regulate child labor using Congress’ taxing power. However, this act was also struck down as unconstitutional in the case of Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Company (1922). Although the public’s concern surrounding child labor laws grew increasingly apparent, effective regulation of child labor in the United States would not come about until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The act was challenged in the Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. Darby (1941), but it stood firm and the constitutionality of the act was upheld. The primary result of U.S. v. Darby was that it reversed the Supreme Court’s decision in Hammer V. Dagenhart and enabled the Fair Labor Standards Act to still stand strong today.

Constitutional Cases

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