chlid labor – the biloxi shrimps and the tenthers


Biloxi Shrimps 1911 by Lewis Wickes Hine. This is the original caption by Hine,

March 1911. Biloxi, Mississippi. View of the Gorenflo Canning Co., taken at 7 a.m. Many tiny workers here, some of whom began to arrive at the factory as early as 5 o’clock, an hour before they were allowed to begin work, and long before daylight on a damp foggy day. The whistle had blown and they came and stood around merely to hold their places. When the shrimp ‘catch’ has been good, they begin work early, but today it was not good so they were waiting for daylight. In this group I ascertained the ages of a few, as follows. One child of 6 years, one of 7, two of 8, one of 10 and there were many more.

Sure they lined up to work. It was either work or starve for those children in 1911. I did that kind of work a few weekends when I was in my teens ( I first started working part-time when I was eleven). When I did it there were labor laws in place – hours, break time, proper ventilation, a working toilet and sink to wash your hands, we received agreed upon payment for work or their were legal consequences and of course no supervisors were allowed to physically beat/punish anyone – all the things we take for granted. There are still small seafood processing plants along most of the coastal U.S. If you visit the Gulf Coast especially you’ll still be able to find a shed where workers sort and head shrimp.

Republican Lizard Brain of the Week,  Sen. Mike Lee Calls Child Labor Laws Unconstitutional

Last week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) posted a lecture on his YouTube channel where he explains in great detail his views on the Constitution. As part of the lecture, which is essentially a lengthy defense of his radical tenther interpretation of the Constitution, Lee claims that federal child labor laws are unconstitutional:

Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law—no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. 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. […]

This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what.

Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.

Lee’s call for a return to failed constitutional vision that spawned the Great Depression is obviously wrong. The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce…among the several states,” and to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” this power to regulate commerce. Even ultraconservative Justice Antonin Scalia agrees that these powers give Congress broad authority to regulate “economic activity” such as hiring and firing.

If you think Lee is just some tea stain flake – which he is – he is also a lawyer who until he was elected to the Senate specialized in Constitutional issues. He served as a law clerk to Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah and clerked for Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., when Alito was on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Thus in making his case against child labor laws – a subcategory of labor laws that provide basic protections for all workers, he should be aware of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. A law which has been tweaked over the years but has stood for 72 years through a SCOTUS composed of conservative and liberal jurists. His take on the 10th Amendment is nothing new. Like most tenthers he completely ignores the Civil War and Texas v. White. As a tenther and Mormon, Lee thinks the federal government cannot decide what constitutes marriage. That tenther take on marriage and religion doesn’t get far either in terms of how the Court has viewed religious rights. As a Mormon he must be familiar with the high court’s ruling against polygamy. If the court cannot decide to forbid polygamy than it cannot regulate marriages of any kind, including gay marriages. In Reynolds v. United States the court cited one of the Founders – who the tea stains say they idolize to the letter.

Thomas Jefferson in which he stated that there was a distinction between religious belief and action that flowed from religious belief. The former “lies solely between man and his God,” therefore “the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.” The court argued that if polygamy was allowed, someone might eventually argue that human sacrifice was a necessary part of their religion, and “to permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

I’ve written a little about credentialism before. Most of us are impressed with some degree with degrees and the professional credentials they provide. In the majority of cases those credentials do mean something. We usually don’t go to dentist that got their degrees through correspondence school. Lee is an example of why it is a good rule to have some degree of weariness about credentials. Lee is using his to add the varnish of legal expertise to opinions that wreak of bad legal interpretation. In that regard he is a professional propagandist. He dispenses wacky legal analysis and arguments to the ground troops of the constitutional and culture wars.

Photographer and sociologist Lewis Wickes Hine at Wikipedia.

The Right Re-embraces Lunatic Legal Arguments from the Past


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