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GOP senator: Federal ban on child labor is unconstitutional

By Sahil Kapur
Monday, January 17, 2011 8:27 EDT
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Newly minted Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said in a lecture posted to his YouTube channel that Congressional laws banning child labor are forbidden by the US Constitution.

Lee, a fierce advocate for the Tenth Amendment who replaced longtime Republican incumbent Bob Bennett in the Senate this month, argued that only states have the constitutional authority to create such laws.

“Congress decided it wanted to prohibit that practice, so it passed a law. No more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that law, and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt,” Lee said. “In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting — that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned — that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by Members of Congress.”

Lee’s reasoning was that labor and manufacturing are “by their very nature, local activities” and not “interstate commercial transactions.” He added: “This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh.”

The key Congressional law that addresses child labor is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which placed a series of restrictions against the employment of people under 18 in the public and private sectors.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law in the 1941 United States v. Darby Lumber decision, overturning Hammer, on the basis of the constitutional authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It has hardly run into controversies since.

Lee said he was not opposed to laws regulating child labor, but merely insisted they be controlled by state governments, not Congress. The issue of states rights is particularly popular in Utah, widely known as America’s most conservative state.

The following video was uploaded to YouTube by Sen. Mike Lee.

(h/t Think Progress)

 
 
 
 
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