Understanding Lochner: Testing Three Rival Theoretical Perspectives




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The Lochner v. New York case initiated a great debate among judicial scholars. Conventional wisdom surrounding Lochner is that Justice Holmes’ dissent exposed unwarranted judicial activism by the majority, while some scholars recently have been slowly re-assessing Justice Peckham’s majority opinion to determine the extent that the opinion rests as a product of the historical era. Rival explanations for Substantive Due Process jurisprudence during the Lochner era were examined and tested by reviewing lower federal court and state court decisions. The theories reviewed were a) the court guarding economic liberty, b) the court guarding against factionalism in government, and c) the court as an agent of business. My findings found that the best perspective for explaining the Lochner era was the court system’s commitment to protecting economic liberties against government encroachment. The evidence rejects Holmes’ agent of business perspective as presented in his dissent.



Lochner, Constitutional law, Political questions and judicial power, Due process of law, Economic liberties (U.S. Constitution)



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