What a Walker Presidency Would Look Like: Let's Turn Back the Clock to a Dark Period in US History

If you want a glimpse of what the US would look like under President Scott Walker, you need to turn back the clock to one of the darkest periods in 20th-century US history: the Lochner era.

Here's a little history lesson, in case you don't know what I'm talking about.

In the early 1900s, a bakery owner named Joseph Lochner sued the state of New York over its Bakeshop Act, which limited the number of hours bakery employees could work to 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week. Lochner lost the case in the New York Court of Appeals, but when he took it to the Supreme Court in 1905, he got the result he wanted.

In a close 5-4 decision, the justices struck down the Bakeshop Act, citing Lochner's right under the 14th Amendment to run his business without "state interference."

Apparently, the Bakeshop Act violated that most fundamental of liberties: the right of employers to work their employees to death.

No one knew it at the time, but this was a big turning point in US history. From when the Lochner case was decided in 1905 until the mid-1930s, the Supreme Court would go on all-out rampage against workers' rights. Over the next few decades it struck down, among other things, child labor laws, minimum wage laws and laws banning "yellow dog contracts" — contracts that forced workers to say they wouldn't join a union.

The guiding principle in most or all of these decisions was the idea that the government's power to protect workers was limited to protecting their "health and safety." Under this line of thinking, things like minimum wage laws were struck down because they went beyond protecting "health and safety" and tried to actually raise the living standards of US workers. This, the Court said, was a violation of the constitutional "right to contract."

The Lochner era, as the period governed by this legal philosophy is called, lasted until 1937, when the Supreme Court ruled in the case of West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish that the government did, in fact, have the power to do things like raise the minimum wage and ban child labor.

There is, by the way, no "right to contract" in the Constitution. The Supreme Court made it up, just like it made up corporate personhood and money as speech.

Today, most legal scholars place the Lochner case, as well as the anti-worker decisions that followed it, among the worst decisions in Supreme Court history. They're basically in the same category as Dred Scott case. Even Robert Bork called the Lochner case an "abomination" — and he was about as right-wing as it gets.

Everyone serious thinks the Lochner case was a big mistake. Everyone that is, except for Scott Walker.

As Ian Milhiser has pointed out in a great piece for ThinkProgress, buried deep in Scott Walker's speech announcing his run for president was a shout-out to the "health and safety" thinking of the Lochner era. He said, "As long as you don't violate the health and safety of your neighbors, go out and start your own career, build your own business, live your own life."

Sounds harmless enough, right?

It does, until you remember that this line of thinking was used to strike down child labor laws, minimum wage laws and basically any kind of law that kept workers from becoming wage slaves. Of course, there's always the chance that Walker just spoke out of tune, but given his record as one of the most anti-labor governors around, it's safe to say that he probably knew exactly what he was talking about. And that's just terrifying.

Walker is the strongest Republican candidate out there, and he's backed by a boatload of billionaire money from the Kochs on down. He could very well be our next president, and if he really is on board with this "health and safety" nonsense, you can kiss the US middle-class goodbye.


Truth2010 8 years 48 weeks ago

If Walker is elected maybe the North should secede.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 48 weeks ago

If Walker is elected, the inmates have truly taken over the asylum.

ChristopehrCurrie's picture
ChristopehrCurrie 8 years 48 weeks ago

Actually, based on the damage he has already done to Wisconsin residents, Scott Walker would become a "poster child" for illustrating why it is a really bad idea to vote for Republicans to run your government.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 48 weeks ago

Excellent comments, stecoop and Christopher! Thom too.

I’d just like to add, this is going to be a very scary election.

w1ders's picture
w1ders 8 years 48 weeks ago

If republicans can cheat, or buy Walker's election for him it is time to revolt. What would we have to lose? Walker will leave nothing for the working class so we'd have nothing to lose except Walker. And good riddance.

Dr. Econ's picture
Dr. Econ 8 years 48 weeks ago

Walker is falling in the polls to Trump, who wants a 20% tarriff.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 48 weeks ago

AIW -- You realize Scott may force you to vote for Hillary, the corporatist.

I wore my Bernie shirt to lunch today. The key comment was who are you going to vote for that has a chance to win. My response was they said the same thing about Obama. Of course, Obama never became president, so you must be right.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 8 years 48 weeks ago

Dr Econ -- Are those polls national or in Iowa? Currently, the walker money is being spent in Iowa.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 48 weeks ago

Reply to #8: Chuck, that's too horrible a thought to dwell on.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 48 weeks ago

How about the Kochs open up a donut shop, and put Walker to work 60 hours per week at minimum wage with no benefits. Let's see where he stands on the Lochner case then. Better yet.....how about after the inevitable revolution the people's court sentence arrogant and out of control citizens like the Kochs and Walker to work 60 hours per week for minimum wage, and then on their day off require them to serve the donuts to homeless people.

cluelessnomore 8 years 48 weeks ago

I always learn something from you Thom! I think Scott Walker is about the scummiest of the scum. I actually, honestly think that if we cannot get Bernie on the ballot, I'm ready for the scum. Maybe if they dismantle everything...the American people will finally get up off their duffs, put down their remote controllers, and get into the streets! THAT is the ONLY thing the scum fear. Thanks for all you do, Thom!

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 8 years 48 weeks ago

Cluelessnomore; Amen !

RLTOWNSLEY's picture
RLTOWNSLEY 8 years 48 weeks ago

As with the afore mentioned reversal of the Lochner decision, it will take yet another devastating economic depression to energize an apathetic population into taking substantive action, and a rapidly increasing number of independent economists and progressive advocates have issued warnings that foretell the reoccurrence of this catastrophic condition in the very near future ! Given the complete absence of a functioning main stream media and a reactionary Supreme Court like the one that blessed the Lochner legislation in the early years of the last century, can we really be surprised that we are facing yet another monumental economic collapse just eighty six years later. Capitalism has always been an unstable system of economy that requires, at the minimum, meaningful government regulation to check it's worst tendencies. Meaningful economic legislation can only exist in a Democracy with an involved and participatory citizenry, not the one we currently have with a full complement of apathetic spectators who have done virtually nothing to arrest the constant decline in their standard of living for years now !

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 48 weeks ago

I'm surprised this post got so many comments, since it's a rerun from July 16th with minor editing.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 8 years 48 weeks ago

Thom was talking about the National Review story that absurdly called Bernie a Nazi. The technique used in the piece is an old racist cannard I have heard from American, reactionary racists, time and again, trying to dismiss socialism. The stated, explicit argument is that European socialism works in Europe because it is a "racially homogenous society". The implicit argument is, of course, that socialism can't work in the U.S. because "those colored people" here are so, by nature, incapable of civillized behaviour that we just HAVE TO keep a draconian capitalist order to "keep the savages at bay", as it were.

mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 48 weeks ago

Mark, I'd bet it's based on the lie that most people on welfare are black, and therefore in an all-white country, there wouldn't be an "overburdensome" expenditure on the social safety net.

stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 48 weeks ago
Quote 2950-10k:Better yet.....how about after the inevitable revolution the people's court sentence arrogant and out of control citizens like the Kochs and Walker to work 60 hours per week for minimum wage, and then on their day off require them to serve the donuts to homeless people.

And I thought I would rather see them go to the guiotine, but I like your idea better, though I would probably add a daily whipping with the Cat-O-Nine-Tails.

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