Liberal certitudes continue to dissolve, the most recent solvent being a robust new defense of a 1905 Supreme Court decision that liberals have long reviled — and misrepresented. To understand why the court correctly decided Lochner v. New York and why this is relevant to current arguments, read David E. Bernstein’s “Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform.”
Since the New Deal, courts have stopped defending liberty of contract and other unenumerated rights grounded in America’s natural rights tradition. These are referred to by the Ninth Amendment, which explicitly protects unenumerated rights “retained by the people,” and by the “privileges or immunities” and “liberty” cited in the 14th Amendment. Progressivism, Bernstein argues, is hostile to America’s premise that individuals possess rights that preexist government and are not fully enumerated in the Constitution. This doctrine stands athwart liberalism’s aspiration to erase constitutional limits on government’s regulatory powers.
An 1895 New York law limited bakery employees to working 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week. Ostensibly, this was health and safety legislation; actually, it was rent-seeking by large, unionized bakeries and the unions. Corporate bakeries supported the legislation, which burdened their small, family-owned competitors. The bakers union hoped to suppress the small, non-unionized bakeries that depended on flexible work schedules.