Adair v. United States

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY

No. 293 Argued: October 29, 30, 1907 --- Decided: January 27, 1908
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This case involves the constitutionality of certain provisions of the act of Congress of June 1, 1898, 30 Stat. 424, c. 370, [p167] concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce and their employes.

By the first section of the act, it is provided:

That the provisions of this act shall apply to any common carrier or carriers and their officers, agents, and employes, except masters of vessels and seamen, as defined in section 4612, Revised Statutes of the United States, engaged in the transportation of passengers or property wholly by railroad, or partly by railroad and partly by water, for a continuous carriage or shipment, from one State or Territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia, to any other State or Territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia, or from any place in the United States to an adjacent foreign country, or from any place in the United States through a foreign country to any other place in the United States. The term "railroad" as used in this act shall include all bridges and ferries used or operated in connection with any railroad, and also all the road in use by any corporation operating a railroad, whether owned or operated under a contract, agreement or lease, and the term "transportation" shall include all instrumentalities of shipment or carriage. The term "employees" as used in this act shall include all persons actually engaged in any capacity in train operation or train service of any description, and notwithstanding that the cars upon or in which they are employed may be held and operated by the carrier under lease or other contract: Provided, however, That this act shall not be held to apply to employees of street railroads and shall apply only to employees engaged in railroad train service. In every such case the carrier shall be responsible for the acts and defaults of such employees in the same manner and to the same extent as if said cars were owned by it and said employees directly employed by it, and any provisions to the contrary of any such lease or other contract shall be binding only as between the parties thereto and shall not affect the obligations of said carrier either to the public or to the private parties concerned. [p168]

The 2d 3d 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th sections relate to the settlement, by means of arbitration, of controversies concerning wages, hours of labor, or conditions of employment arising between a carrier subject to the provisions of the act and its employees, which seriously interrupt or threaten to interrupt the business of the carrier. Those sections prescribe the mode in which controversies may be brought under the cognizance of arbitrators, in what way the arbitrators may be designated, and the effect of their decisions. The first subdivision of § 3 contains a proviso "that no employee shall be compelled to render personal service without his consent."

The 11th section relates to the compensation and expenses of the arbitrators.

By the 12th section the act of Congress of October 1, 1888, 25 Stat. 501, c. 1063, creating boards of arbitrators or commissioners for settling controversies and differences between railroad corporations and other common carriers engaged in interstate or territorial transportation of persons or property and their employees, was repealed.

The 10th section, upon which the present prosecution is based, is in these words:

That any employer subject to the provisions of this act and any officer, agent, or receiver of such employer, who shall require any employee, or any person seeking employment, as a condition of such employment, to enter into an agreement, either written or verbal, not to become or remain a member of any labor corporation, association, or organization; or shall threaten any employee with loss of employment, or shall unjustly discriminate against any employee because of his membership in such a labor corporation, association, or organization; or who shall require any employee or any person seeking employment, as a condition of such employment, to enter into a contract whereby such employee or applicant for employment shall agree to contribute to any fund for charitable, social, or beneficial purposes; to release such employer from legal liability for any personal injury by reason of any benefit received from [p169] such fund beyond the proportion of the benefit arising from the employer's contribution to such fund; or who shall, after having discharged an employee, attempt or conspire to prevent such employee from obtaining employment, or who shall, after the quitting of an employee, attempt or conspire to prevent such employee from obtaining employment, is hereby declared to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof in any court of the United States of competent jurisdiction in the district in which such offense was committed, shall be punished for each offense by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than one thousand dollars.

It may be observed in passing that, while that section makes it a crime against the United States to unjustly discriminate against an employee of an interstate carrier because of his being a member of a labor organization, it does not make it a crime to unjustly discriminate against an employee of the carrier because of his not being a member of such an organization.

The present indictment was in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Kentucky against the defendant Adair.

The first count alleged

that at and before the time hereinafter named, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company is and was a railroad corporation, duly organized and existing by law and a common carrier engaged in the transportation of passengers and property wholly by steam railroad for a continuous carriage and shipment from one State of the United States to another State of the United States of America, that is to say, from the State of Kentucky into the States of Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, and from the State of Ohio into the State of Kentucky, and was at all times aforesaid and at the time of the commission of the offense hereinafter named, a common carrier of interstate commerce, and an employer, subject to the provisions of a certain act of Congress of the United States of America, entitled, "An Act concerning carriers engaged in interstate commerce and their employees," approved Junc 1, 1898, and said corporation was not at any [p170] time a street railroad corporation. That before and at the time of the commission of the offense hereinafter named, one William Adair was an agent and employee of said common carrier and employer, and was at all said times master mechanic of said common carrier and employer in the district aforesaid, and before and at the time hereinafter stated, one O. B. Coppage was an employee of said common carrier and employer in the district aforesaid, and, as such employee, was at all times hereinafter named actually engaged in the capacity of locomotive fireman in train operation and train service for said common carrier and employer in the transportation of passengers and property aforesaid, and was an employee of said common carrier and employer actually engaged in said railroad transportation and train service aforesaid, to whom the provisions of said act applied, and, at the time of the commission of the offense hereinafter named, said O. B. Coppage was a member of a certain labor organization, known as the Order of Locomotive Firemen, as he the said William Adair then and there well knew, a more particular description of said organization and the members thereof is to the grand jurors unknown.

The specific charge in that count was

that said William Adair, agent and employee of said common carrier and employer as aforesaid, in the district aforesaid, on and before the 15th day of October, 1906, did unlawfully and unjustly discriminate against said O. B. Coppage, employee as aforesaid, by then and there discharging said O. B. Coppage from such employment of said common carrier and employer, because of his membership in said labor organization, and thereby did unjustly discriminate against an employee of a common carrier and employer engaged in interstate commerce because of his membership in a labor organization, contrary to the forms of the statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

The second count repeated the general allegations of the first count as to the character of the business of the Louisville [p171] and Nashville Railroad Company and the relations between that corporation and Adair and Coppage. It charged

that said William Adair, in the district aforesaid and within the jurisdiction of this court, agent and employee of said common carrier and employer aforesaid, on and before the 15th day of October, 1906, did unlawfully threaten said O. B. Coppage, employee as aforesaid, with loss of employment, because of his membership in said labor organization, contrary to the forms of the statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

The accused Adair demurred to the indictment as insufficient in law, but the demurrer was overruled. After reviewing the authorities, in an elaborate opinion, the court held the tenth section of the act of Congress to be constitutional. 152 Fed.Rep. 737. The defendant pleaded not guilty, and, after trial, a verdict was returned of guilty on the first count and a judgment rendered that he pay to the United States a fine of $100. We shall, therefore, say nothing as to the second count of the indictment.

It thus appears that the criminal offense charged in the count of the indictment upon which the defendant was convicted was, in substance and effect, that, being an agent of a railroad company engaged in interstate commerce and subject to the provisions of the above act of June 1, 1898, he discharged one Coppage from its service because of his membership in a labor organization -- no other ground for such discharge being alleged.

May Congress make it a criminal offense against the United States -- as by the tenth section of the act of 1898 it does -- for an agent or officer of an interstate carrier, having full authority in the premises from the carrier, to discharge an employee from service simply because of his membership in a labor organization?

This question is admittedly one of importance, and has been examined with care and deliberation. And the court has reached a conclusion which, in its judgment, is consistent [p172] with both the words and spirit of the Constitution and is sustained as well by sound reason.

The first inquiry is whether the part of the tenth section of the act of 1898 upon which the first count of the indictment was based is repugnant to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution declaring that no person shall be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law. In our opinion, that section, in the particular mentioned, is an invasion of the personal liberty, as well as of the right of property, guaranteed by that Amendment. Such liberty and right embraces the right to make contracts for the purchase of the labor of others and equally the right to make contracts for the sale of one's own labor; each right, however; being subject to the fundamental condition that no contract, whatever its subject matter, can be sustained which the law, upon reasonable grounds, forbids as inconsistent with the public interests or as hurtful to the public order or as detrimental to the common good. This court has said that,

in every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members, the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may, at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.

Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 29, and authorities there cited. Without stopping to consider what would have been the rights of the railroad company under the Fifth Amendment had it been indicted under the act of Congress, it is sufficient in this case to say that, as agent of the railroad company and as such responsible for the conduct of the business of one of its departments, it was the defendant Adair's right -- and that right inhered in his personal liberty, and was also a right of property -- to serve his employer as best he could, so long as he did nothing that was reasonably forbidden by law as injurious to the public interests. It was the right of the defendant to prescribe the terms upon which the services of Coppage would be accepted, and it was the right of Coppage to become or not, [p173] as he chose, an employee of the railroad company upon the terms offered to him. Mr. Cooley, in his treatise on Torts, p. 278, well says:

It is a part of every man's civil rights that he be left at liberty to refuse business relations with any person whomsoever, whether the refusal rests upon reason, or is the result of whim, caprice, prejudice or malice. With his reasons neither the public nor third persons have any legal concern. It is also his right to have business relations with anyone with whom he can make contracts, and if he is wrongfully deprived of this right by others, he is entitled to redress.

In Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 53, 56, which involved the validity of a state enactment prescribing certain maximum hours for labor in bakeries, and which made it a misdemeanor for an employer to require or permit an employee in such an establishment to work in excess of a given number of hours each day, the court said:

The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578. Under that provision, no State can deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. The right to purchase or to sell labor is part of the liberty protected by this amendment, unless there are circumstances which exclude the right. There are, however, certain powers, existing in the sovereignty of each State in the Union, somewhat vaguely termed police powers, the exact description and limitation of which have not been attempted by the courts. Those powers, broadly stated and without, at present, any attempt at a more specific limitation, relate to the safety, health, morals and general welfare of the public. Both property and liberty are held on such reasonable conditions as may be imposed by the governing power of the State in the exercise of those powers, and with such conditions the Fourteenth Amendment was not designed to interfere. Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623; In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436; Crowley v. Christensen, 137 U.S. 86; In re Converse, 137 U.S. 624. . . . In every case that [p174] comes before this court, therefore, where legislation of this character is concerned and where the protection of the Federal Constitution is sought, the question necessarily arises: is this a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the State, or is it an unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty or to enter into those contracts in relation to labor which may seem to him appropriate or necessary for the support of himself and his family? Of course, the liberty of contract relating to labor includes both parties to it. The one has as much right to purchase as the other to sell labor.

Although there was a difference of opinion in that case among the members of the court as to certain propositions, there was no disagreement as to the general proposition that there is a liberty of contract which cannot be unreasonably interfered with by legislation. The minority were of opinion that the business referred to in the New York statute was such as to require regulation, and that, as the statute was not shown plainly and palpably to have imposed an unreasonable restraint upon freedom of contract, it should be regarded by the courts as a valid exercise of the State's power to care for the health and safety of its people.

While, as already suggested, the rights of liberty and property guaranteed by the Constitution against deprivation without due process of law are subject to such reasonable restraints as the common good or the general welfare may require, it is not within the functions of government -- at least in the absence of contract between the parties -- to compel any person, in the course of his business and against his will, to accept or retain the personal services of another, or to compel any person, against his will, to perform personal services for another. The right of a person to sell his labor upon such terms as he deems proper is, in its essence, the same as the right of the purchaser of labor to prescribe the conditions upon which he will accept such labor from the person offering to sell it. So the right of the employee to quit the service of the employer, [p175] for whatever reason, is the same as the right of the employer, for whatever reason, to dispense with the services of such employee. It was the legal right of the defendant Adair -- however unwise such a course might have been -- to discharge Coppage because of his being a member of a labor organization, as it was the legal right of Coppage, if he saw fit to do so -- however unwise such a course on his part might have been -- to quit the service in which he was engaged because the defendant employed some persons who were not members of a labor organization. In all such particulars, the employer and the employee have equality of right, and any legislation that disturbs that equality is an arbitrary interference with the liberty of contract which no government can legally justify in a free land. These views find support in adjudged cases, some of which are cited in the margin. [n1] Of course, if the parties, by contract, fix the period of service, and prescribe the conditions upon which the contract may be terminated, such contract would control the rights of the parties as between themselves, and, for any violation of those provisions, the party wronged would have his appropriate civil action. And it may be -- but upon that point we express no opinion -- that, in the case of a labor contract between an employer engaged in interstate commerce and his employee, Congress could make it a crime for either party, without sufficient or just excuse or notice, to disregard the terms of such contract or to refuse to perform it. In the absence, however, of a valid contract between the parties controlling their conduct towards each other and fixing a period of service, it cannot be, we repeat, that an employer is under any legal obligation, against his will, to retain an employee in his personal service any more than an employee [p176] can be compelled, against his will, to remain in the personal service of another. So far as this record discloses the facts the defendant, who seemed to have authority in the premises, did not agree to keep Coppage in service for any particular time, nor did Coppage agree to remain in such service a moment longer than he chose. The latter was at liberty to quit the service without assigning any reason for his leaving. And the defendant was at liberty, in his discretion, to discharge Coppage from service without giving any reason for so doing.

As the relations and the conduct of the parties towards each other was not controlled by any contract other than a general agreement on one side to accept the services of the employee and a general agreement on the other side to render services to the employer -- no term being fixed for the continuance of the employment -- Congress could not, consistently with the Fifth Amendment, make it a crime against the United States to discharge the employee because of his being a member of a labor organization.

But it is suggested that the authority to make it a crime for an agent or officer of an interstate carrier, having authority in the premises from his principal, to discharge an employee from service to such carrier, simply because of his membership in a labor organization, can be referred to the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, without regard to any question of personal liberty or right of property arising under the Fifth Amendment. This suggestion can have no bearing in the present discussion unless the statute, in the particular just stated, is, within the meaning of the Constitution, a regulation of commerce among the States. If it be not, then clearly the Government cannot invoke the commerce clause of the Constitution as sustaining the indictment against Adair.

Let us inquire what is commerce, the power to regulate which is given to Congress?

This question has been frequently propounded in this court, and the answer has been -- and no more specific answer could [p177] well have been given -- that commerce among the several States comprehends traffic, intercourse, trade, navigation, communication, the transit of persons and the transmission of messages by telegraph -- indeed, every species of commercial intercourse among the several States, but not to that commerce

completely internal, which is carried on between man and man, in a State, or between different parts of the same State, and which does not extend to or affect other States.

The power to regulate interstate commerce is the power to prescribe rules by which such commerce must be governed. [n2] Of course, as has been often said, Congress has a large discretion in the selection or choice of the means to be employed in the regulation of interstate commerce, and such discretion is not to be interfered with except where that which is done is in plain violation of the Constitution. Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197, and authorities there cited. In this connection, we may refer to Johnson v. Railroad, 196 U.S. 1, relied on in argument, which case arose under the act of Congress of March 2, 1893, 27 Stat. 531, c. 196. That act required carriers engaged in interstate commerce to equip their cars used in such commerce with automatic couplers and continuous brakes, and their locomotives with driving wheel brakes. But the act, upon its face, showed that its object was to promote the safety of employees and travelers upon railroads, and this court sustained its validity upon the ground that it manifestly had reference to interstate commerce, and was calculated to subserve the interests of such commerce by affording protection to employees and travelers. It was held that there was a substantial connection between the object sought to be attained by the act and the means provided to accomplish that object. So, in regard to Employers' Liability [p178] Cases, 207 U.S. 63, decided at the present term. In that case, the court sustained the authority of Congress, under its power to regulate interstate commerce, to prescribe the rule of liability, as between interstate carriers and its employees in such interstate commerce, in cases of personal injuries received by employees while actually engaged in such commerce. The decision on this point was placed on the ground that a rule of that character would have direct reference to the conduct of interstate commerce, and would, therefore, be within the competency of Congress to establish for commerce among the States, but not as to commerce completely internal to a State. Manifestly, any rule prescribed for the conduct of interstate commerce, in order to be within the competency of Congress under its power to regulate commerce among the States, must have some real or substantial relation to or connection with the commerce regulated. But what possible legal or logical connection is there between an employee's membership in a labor organization and the carrying on of interstate commerce? Such relation to a labor organization cannot have, in itself, and in the eye of the law, any bearing upon the commerce with which the employee is connected by his labor and services. Labor associations, we assume, are organized for the general purpose of improving or bettering the conditions and conserving the interests of its members as wage-earners -- an object entirely legitimate and to be commended, rather than condemned. But surely those associations, as labor organizations, have nothing to do with interstate commerce as such. One who engages in the service of an interstate carrier will, it must be assumed, faithfully perform his duty, whether he be a member or not a member of a labor organization. His fitness for the position in which he labors and his diligence in the discharge of his duties cannot, in law or sound reason, depend in any degree upon his being or not being a member of a labor organization. It cannot be assumed that his fitness is assured, or his diligence increased, by such membership, or that he is less fit or less diligent because [p179] of his not being a member of such an organization. It is the employee as a man, and not as a member of a labor organization, who labors in the service of an interstate carrier. Will it be said that the provision in question had its origin in the apprehension, on the part of Congress, that, if it did not show more consideration for members of labor organizations than for wage-earners who were not members of such organizations, or if it did not insert in the statute some such provision as the one here in question, members of labor organizations would, by illegal or violent measures, interrupt or impair the freedom of commerce among the States? We will not indulge in any such conjectures, nor make them, in whole or in part, the basis of our decision. We could not do so consistently with the respect due to a coordinate department of the Government. We could not do so without imputing to Congress the purpose to accord to one class of wage-earners privileges withheld from another class of wage-earners engaged, it may be, in the same kind of labor and serving the same employer. Nor will we assume, in our consideration of this case, that members of labor organizations will, in any considerable numbers, resort to illegal methods for accomplishing any particular object they have in view.

Looking alone at the words of the statute for the purpose of ascertaining its scope and effect, and of determining its validity, we hold that there is no such connection between interstate commerce and membership in a labor organization as to authorize Congress to make it a crime against the United States for an agent of an interstate carrier to discharge an employee because of such membership on his part. If such a power exists in Congress, it is difficult to perceive why it might not, by absolute regulation, require interstate carriers, under penalties, to employ in the conduct of its interstate business only members of labor organizations, or only those who are not members of such organizations -- a power which could not be recognized as existing under the Constitution of the United States. No such rule of criminal liability as that to which [p180] we have referred can be regarded as, in any just sense, a regulation of interstate commerce. We need scarcely repeat what this court has more than once said, that the power to regulate interstate commerce, great and paramount as that power is, cannot be exerted in violation of any fundamental right secured by other provisions of the Constitution. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 196; Lottery Case, 188 U.S. 321, 353.

It results, on the whole case, that the provision of the statute under which the defendant was convicted must be held to be repugnant to the Fifth Amendment, and as not embraced by nor within the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but, under the guise of regulating interstate commerce and as applied to this case, it arbitrarily sanctions an illegal invasion of the personal liberty as well as the right of property of the defendant Adair.

We add that, since the part of the act of 1898 upon which the first count of the indictment is based, and upon which alone the defendant was convicted, is severable from its other parts, and, as what has been said is sufficient to dispose of the present case, we are not called upon to consider other and independent provisions of the act, such, for instance, as the provisions relating to arbitration. This decision is therefore restricted to the question of the validity of the particular provision in the act of Congress making it a crime against the United States for an agent or officer of an interstate carrier to discharge an employee from its service because of his being a member of a labor organization.

The judgment must be reversed, with directions to set aside the verdict and judgment of conviction, sustain the demurrer to the indictment, and dismiss the case.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE MOODY did not participate in the decision of this case.

1. People v. Marcus, 185 N.Y. 257; National Protection Assn. v. Cummings, 170 N.Y. 315; Jacobs v. Cohen, 183 N.Y. 207; State v. Julow, 129 Missouri 163, State v. Goodwill, 33 W.Va. 179; Gillespie v. People, 188 Illinois 176; State v. Kreutzberg, 114 Wisconsin 530; Wallace v. Georgia, C. & N. Ry. Co., 94 Georgia 732; Hundley v. L. & N. R.R. Co., 105 Kentucky 162; Brewster v. Miller's Sons & Co., 101 Kentucky 268; N.Y. &c. R.R. Co. v. Schaffer, 65 Ohio St. 414; Arthur v. Oakes, 63 Fed.Rep. 310.

2. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1; Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283; Almy v. State of California, 24 How. 169; Pensacola Tel. Co. v. Western Union Tel. Co., 96 U.S. 1, 9, 12; County of Mobile v. Kimball, 102 U.S. 691; Western Union Tel. Co. v. Pendleton, 122 U.S. 347, 356; Lottery Case, 188 U.S. 321, 352; Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197; Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463.
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