Landmark Supreme Court Case: West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)
West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937) is the 68th landmark Supreme Court case, 30th in the Economics module, featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics Series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Science & Technology
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)
West Coast Hotel Facts:
Under Washington state law, the Industrial Welfare Committee and Supervisor of Women in Industry set a minimum wage of $14.50 for each work week of 48 hours. Elsie Parrish, an employee of the West Coast Hotel Company, received an amount less than this wage. Parrish brought a suit to recover the difference between the wages paid to her and the minimum wage fixed by state law.
In ruling for the hotel, the lower court relied on Adkins (1923), in which the Court struck down a minimum wage law for working women. The Washington Supreme Court, taking the case on a direct appeal, reversed the trial court and found in favor of Parrish. The hotel appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A: No. State minimum wage regulation does not violate the constitutional requirement of due process.
West Coast Hotel Conclusion
5-4 holding Washington’s minimum wage law for women was a valid regulation of the right to contract freely because of the state’s special interest in protecting their health and ability to support themselves. Supreme Court of Washington affirmed.
Echoing Muller (1908), the majority ruled that the state may use its police power to restrict the individual freedom to contract. The decision overruled Adkins and marked the Court’s departure from the expansive view of the freedom to contract. It’s generally regarded as having ended the Lochner era, a period in American legal history in which the Supreme Court tended to invalidate legislation aimed at regulating business.
The doctrine continued to inform the Court’s decisions through the Great Depression and the beginning of the New Deal, when it invalidated numerous worker and consumer protections. Just months prior to West Coast, a similar minimum wage law from New York was struck down in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo (1936). The majority in Morehead consisted of four conservative justices, sometimes called the “Four Horsemen”, and a fifth Associate Justice, Owen Josephus Roberts.
In response to the invalidation of so much legislation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed to change the number of Supreme Court justices, which its opponents characterized as the “court-packing plan”, his court reform bill was intended to dilute the influence of the older, anti-New Deal justices.
The stark doctrinal shift of the Court in West Coast resulted from Justice Owen Josephus Roberts changing his perspective on this issue. According to Justice Hughes, President Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection in 1936 and the impressive achievements of the New Deal caused Roberts to abandon his affiliation with the Court’s conservative justices.
Next Economics Case: Steward Machine v. Davis (1937)
Previous Economics Case: Morehead v. New York (1936)