Child Labor Amendment
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The Child Labor Amendment is a proposed and still-pending amendment to the United States Constitution that would specifically authorize Congress to regulate "labor of persons under eighteen years of age". The amendment was proposed in 1924 following Supreme Court rulings in 1918 and 1922 that federal laws regulating and taxing goods produced by employees under the ages of 14 and 16 were unconstitutional.
The majority of the state governments ratified the amendment by the mid-1930s; however, it has not been ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states according to Article V of the Constitution and none has ratified it since 1937. Interest in the amendment waned following the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which implemented federal regulation of child labor with the Supreme Court's approval in 1941.
The amendment was itself the subject of a 1939 Supreme Court decision, Coleman v. Miller (307 U.S. 433), regarding its putative expiration. As Congress did not set a time limit for its ratification, the amendment is still technically pending before the states. Ratification by an additional ten states would be necessary for this amendment to come into force.
Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.
Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.
With the Keating–Owen Act of 1916, the United States Congress had attempted to regulate interstate commerce involving goods produced by employees under the ages of 14 or 16, depending on the type of work. The Supreme Court found this law unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918). Later that year, Congress attempted to levy a tax on businesses with employees under the ages of 14 or 16 (again depending on the type of work), which was struck down by the Supreme Court in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1922). It became apparent that a constitutional amendment would be necessary for such legislation to overcome the Court's objections.
House Joint Resolution No. 184 was adopted by the United States House of Representatives on April 26, 1924, with a vote of 297 yeas, 69 nays, 2 absent and 64 not voting. It was then adopted by the Senate on June 2, 1924, with a vote of 61 yeas, 23 nays and 12 not voting. And with that, the proposed constitutional amendment was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification pursuant to Article V of the Constitution.
- Arkansas — June 28, 1924
- California — January 8, 1925
- Arizona — January 29, 1925
- Wisconsin — February 25, 1925
- Montana — February 11, 1927
- Colorado — April 28, 1931
- Oregon — January 31, 1933
- Washington — February 3, 1933
- North Dakota — March 4, 1933 (After State Senate rejection – January 28, 1925)
- Ohio — March 22, 1933
- Michigan — May 10, 1933
- New Hampshire — May 17, 1933 (After rejection – March 18, 1925)
- New Jersey — June 12, 1933
- Illinois — June 30, 1933
- Oklahoma — July 5, 1933
- Iowa — December 5, 1933 (After State House rejection – March 11, 1925)
- West Virginia — December 12, 1933
- Minnesota — December 14, 1933 (After rejection – April 14, 1925)
- Maine — December 16, 1933 (After rejection – April 10, 1925)
- Pennsylvania — December 21, 1933 (After rejection – April 16, 1925)
- Wyoming — January 31, 1935
- Utah — February 5, 1935 (After rejection – February 4, 1925)
- Idaho — February 7, 1935 (After State House rejection – February 7, 1925)
- Indiana — February 8, 1935 (After State Senate rejection – February 5, 1925 and State House rejection - March 5, 1925)
- Kentucky — January 13, 1937 (After rejection – March 24, 1926)
- Nevada — January 29, 1937
- New Mexico — February 12, 1937 (After rejection – 1935)
- Kansas — February 25, 1937 (After rejection – January 30, 1925)
The following fifteen state legislatures rejected the Child Labor Amendment and did not subsequently ratify it: Connecticut (1925), Delaware (1925), Florida (1925), Georgia (1924), Louisiana (1924), Maryland (1927), Massachusetts (1925), Missouri (1925), North Carolina (1924), South Carolina (1925), South Dakota (1925, 1933 and 1937), Tennessee (1925), Texas (1925), Vermont (1925), and Virginia (1926). Although the act, on the part of state legislatures, of "rejecting" a proposed constitutional amendment has no legal recognition, such action does have political ramifications.
Of the 48 states in the Union in 1924, five have taken no action of record on the amendment: Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York and Rhode Island, neither have Alaska nor Hawaii, which became states in 1959.
Presently, there being 50 states in the Union, the amendment will remain inoperative unless it is ratified by an additional 10 states to reach the necessary threshold of 38 states.
Only five states adopted the amendment in the 1920s. Ten of the states initially balked, then re-examined their position during the 1930s and decided to ratify. These delayed decisions resulted in much controversy and resulted in the 1939 Supreme Court case Coleman v. Miller (307 U.S. 433) in which it was determined that the Child Labor Amendment remained pending before the state legislatures because the 68th Congress did not specify any deadline. The ruling also formed the basis of the unusual and belated ratification of the 27th Amendment which was proposed by Congress in 1789 and ratified more than two centuries later in 1992 by the legislatures of at least three-fourths of the 50 states.
The common legal opinion on federal child labor regulation reversed in the 1930s. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 regulating the employment of those under 16 or 18 years of age. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of that law in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941), which overturned Hammer v. Dagenhart – one of the key decisions that had motivated the proponents of the Child Labor Amendment. After this shift, the amendment has been described as "moot" and effectively part of the Constitution; the movement for it had concluded.
If ever ratified by the required number of U.S. state legislatures, the Child Labor Amendment would repose in the Congress of the United States jurisdiction concurrent with that of the states to legislate on the subject of child labor.
In 1933 J. Gresham Machen, who was a major voice at the time for Evangelical Fundamentalism and conservative politics, delivered a paper called Mountains and Why We Love Them, that was read before a group of ministers in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933. In passing he mentions the Child Labor Amendment and says "Will the so-called "Child Labor Amendment" and other similar measures be adopted, to the destruction of all the decencies and privacies of the home?"
- List of amendments to the United States Constitution
- List of proposed amendments to the United States Constitution
- "The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, Centennial Edition, Interim Edition: Analysis of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 26, 2013" (PDF). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 2013. p. 50. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
- "Keating-Owen Child Labor Act of 1916". Our Documents. National Archives. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- 65 Congressional Record 7294-7295
- 65 Congressional Record 10142
- James J. Kilpatrick, ed. (1961). The Constitution of the United States and Amendments Thereto. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government. pp. 68–69.
- Vile, John R. (2003). Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-2002. ABC-CLIO. p. 63. ISBN 9781851094288.
- Strauss, David A. (2010). The Living Constitution. Oxford University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9780195377279.
- Griffin, Stephen M. (1998). American Constitutionalism: From Theory to Politics. Princeton University Press. p. 89. ISBN 9780691002408.
- Gresham Machen, J. (August 1934). "Mountains and Why We Love Them". Christianity Today.
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