Coppage v. Kansas

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Coppage v. Kansas
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Submitted October 30, 1914
Decided January 25, 1915
Full case name Coppage v. State of Kansas
Citations 236 U.S. 1 (more)
35 S. Ct. 240; 59 L. Ed. 441; 1915 U.S. LEXIS 1798
It is outside the scope of state police power to prohibit employment contracts that bar workers from joining a union.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Edward D. White
Associate Justices
Joseph McKenna · Oliver W. Holmes, Jr.
William R. Day · Charles E. Hughes
Willis Van Devanter · Joseph R. Lamar
Mahlon Pitney · James C. McReynolds
Case opinions
Majority Pitney, joined by White, Van Devanter, Lamar, McReynolds, McKenna
Dissent Holmes
Dissent Day, joined by Hughes

Coppage v. Kansas 236 U.S. 1 (1915), was a US Supreme Court case based on US labor law that allowed employers to implement contracts, called yellow-dog contracts, which forbade employees from joining unions.

The case was decided in the era prior to the Great Depression, when the Supreme Court invalidated laws that imposed restrictions on contracts, especially those of employment. Then liberty of contract became to be viewed as a fundamental right that could be abridged only in extreme circumstances. Abridgements violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Coppage, an employer, forbade his employees from joining labor unions by making it part of their contract, which the employee signed before being hired. That violated a Kansas] law that prohibited such contracts.


The majority opinion was written by Justice Pitney. It held that the law prohibiting such contracts violated Coppage's due process rights, as the government did not have a responsibility to prevent inequality of bargaining power:

He concluded that a state in the exercise of its police power did not have the right to redress imbalances of bargaining power and that requiring a man to give up the right to be in a union as a condition of employment does "not to ask him to give up any part of his constitutional freedom."


Justice Holmes wrote a dissent in which he called again for Lochner to be overruled and stated that the Constitution does not specifically prohibit a law like the one Kansas had and so it should be upheld:

Justice Day's dissent would have affirmed the liberty of contract against arbitrary legislative restraints but deferred more to the legislature on the question of whether the law upheld the public welfare. He also argued, "A man may not barter away his life or his freedom, or his substantial rights."

See also

External links

  • Text of Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1 (1915) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia 
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