Supreme Court Cases: Gilded Age
By an 8-1 vote, with only Justice John Marshall Harlan I dissenting, the Supreme Court, while conceding that this was a monopoly, ruled that Congress had exceeded its power under the commerce clause. The Court held that the manufacture of an item was done entirely within a state and therefore was properly a matter of intrastate commerce. While the sugar was intended eventually to move in interstate commerce, until it did so the power to regulate its manufacture was within the state’s police power. The majority held that any effect on interstate commerce was “indirect” and Congress could only regulate those activities that had a “direct effect” on interstate commerce.
By a 7-1 vote, with only Justice John Marshall Harlan I dissenting, the Supreme Court upheld the Louisiana law and Plessy’s conviction. The majority concluded that the Louisiana law requiring “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans and whites did not violate either the Privileges and Immunities Clause or the Equal Protection of the laws Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The law mandating racial segregation, the majority reasoned, was in line with “the established usages, customs and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order.” In his powerful solo dissent, Justice Harlan I wrote: “In view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v Ferguson upholding racial segregation by law under the so-called “separate but equal rule” led more states to enact such laws. Plessy remained the law until the Supreme Court overruled the decision in 1954 in the case of Brown v Board of Education.
The Supreme Court in 1901 in one of the earliest Insular Cases ruled that the U. S. did have the power to acquire territory by treaty. In other Insular Cases, a very divided Supreme Court ruled that American territories were of two types: “incorporated” and “unincorporated.” “Incorporated” territories were those which were supposedly destined for eventual statehood while “unincorporated” territories were those which were not destined for statehood. A majority of the Court determined that in the so-called “incorporated” territories, all the rights and privileges of the Constitution apply except those clearly available only to state citizens. In the so-called “unincorporated” territories, on the other hand, a majority of the Court concluded that only certain “fundamental” rights are guaranteed. Since Congress’ admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union as states in the 1950s, there are no “incorporated” territories.
Apparently of great influence on the Court’s decision in Muller was a brief filed by a well-known attorney (and future Supreme Court justice) named Louis Brandeis who argued the case for Oregon before the Supreme Court. Brandeis utilized a very innovative strategy that became known as “the Brandeis Brief” and led to significant changes in future legal analysis and Supreme Court litigation. Brandeis devoted only two pages to his discussion of the legal issues. In the over one-hundred pages of the remainder of his brief, Brandeis presented evidence of the harmful effects of long hours of labor on the health, safety, morals, and welfare of women. He included evidence from a great variety of sources such as medical reports, psychological and sociological writings, and statistical reports which he used to show that there was basis for the Oregon law.