Muller vs. Oregon: Supreme Court Cases

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Muller vs. Oregon
Since its creation in the late 18th century, the Supreme Court has made numerous decisions that impacted the course of history. The Supreme Court has a very important job, to interpret the constitution principles and make decisions based on these important standards. Had it not been for the rulings made by this court, many laws and precedents may not have been adapted. One case that had an exceptionally important impact on history was the case of Muller vs. Oregon. This case is one of the most influential decisions in Supreme Court history and its impacts are still seen even today.

The case of Muller vs. Oregon was a landmark court case that took place in 1908. The major issue of the court case was an Oregon law passed in 1903 that set a maximum of ten hours a day for women employed in factories and laundries. The law fell in a category of “progressive” laws being passed during the time period in order to protect workers during a period of rapid industrialization. The right of a State to regulate the working hours of women rests on the police power and the right to preserve the health of the women of the State, and is not affected by other laws of the State granting or denying to women the same rights as to contract and the elective franchise as are enjoyed by men. The state of Oregon enacted this law restricting the length of women’s work days in order to protect their health and safety seeing as that women are the childbearing gender and their wellbeing is imperative. (

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Curt Muller, the owner of a laundry business, was convicted of violating Oregon labor laws by making a female employee work more than ten hours in a single day. Muller was fined $10. Muller appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which upheld the constitutionality of the labor law and affirmed his conviction. Oregon’s attorney general agreed that Louis D. Brandeis should defend the law before the Court. Brandeis was a lawyer who supported reforms that protected workers. He filed a brief argument in the case that discussed previous legal cases for only two pages. Brandeis then presented much evidence showing a direct link between long hours of work and women’s health.

The Court had suggested in previous court cases that it would support kinds of state laws with a direct link to health or safety. In his brief, Brandeis tried to show the Court that Oregon’s law was a valid use of its power to protect the health of women. This presentation to the Supreme Court became known as the “Brandeis Brief.” It provided social authorities on the issue of the impact of long working hours on women. This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law and changed the direction of the Supreme Court and of U.S. law. The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations. (

When the justice’s voted on this matter, the constitutionality of the Oregon state law was upheld by a 9-0 vote. They decided that there was no violation in the 10-hour limit on the work day for women, which effectively proved that Muller broke the law. The court’s opinion was based on the belief that physical and social differences between the sexes warranted a different rule regarding labor contracts. This appeared to be a victory for the progressives pushing for protective labor reform and it was viewed as a positive because it benefited the health and welfare of women. Although this case promoted the wellbeing of women as a whole, some argued that the Oregon state law that was upheld by the courts decision was a violation of women’s fourteenth amendment right to due process by preventing her from freely contracting with her employer. Many equal rights feminists were angered by the decision because they believed that it supported gender stereotypes, in turn limiting the socioeconomic opportunities of working class women. (

This case had a great deal of significance in during the progressive era when it was argued as well as today when it is a tale for the history books. Not only was it important for the obvious reasons such as limiting the work day of women to 10 hours and protecting their wellbeing in the workplace, it was also significant for some other less obvious reasons. Some may believe that this case facilitates gender discrimination in the workplace, an issue that has been debated for countless decades. If the Supreme Court can rule to deny women their fourteenth amendment rights – even if it is claimed to be “for their own good,” then how can women ever escape the common stereotype of being inferior to men? It is difficult for feminists of the time who were fighting for equality to contend with this court case that basically encourages different regulations for men and women in the workplace.

The ruling in Muller vs. Oregon has not been overturned by the Supreme Court. It has remained constitutional for state law to mandate the amount of hours women can spend in the workplace, in order to protect them physically. Some argue that it was a victory for progressive reformers during a period of increased industrialization and an important step in labor reform, while others argue that it violated women’s 14th amendment rights and stripped them of their freedom to negotiate terms with their employer. Regardless of what the case is viewed as, a victory or a setback, it will live in history as one of the most influential cases determined by the Supreme Court to date. It truly is a landmark event in American history.

Works Cited
“Muller V. Oregon.” The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 26 May 2013. . “Key Supreme Court Cases.” American Bar Association. N.p., Web. 26 May 2013. . “Muller vs. Oregon.” The Fourteenth Amendment and the Rights Revolution. N.p., Web. 26 May 2013. . “Muller v. State of Oregon.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., Web. 26 May 2013. .

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Muller vs. Oregon: Supreme Court Cases. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from

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