There’s been some talk off and on over the years about whether or not the laws enforcing minimum wage are Constitutional or if the Federal Government is over-reaching its power and that it should be the states’ individual rights to determine the legislation. The argument most heard is that it violates the Tenth Amendment.
However, with very little research, I can deliver the facts about how Constitutionally-sound the legislation actually is. Everyone knows (or should know) that the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say in the decisions regarding whether or not a law Congress passes is in conflict with the Constitution. The Supreme Court solidified this position in Marbury v. Madison in 1803. The opinion of the Court held that the Constitution was “the fundamental and paramount law of the nation” and that “an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.” In non-legal jargon, that means that the Constitution is the highest Law of the Land, and any legislature that conflicts with it is automatically illegal and cannot be enforced. So with this case, the Supreme Court basically said that a law can go to Court and see if it violates our Constitutional Rights.
The Fair Labor Standards Act which includes provisions for minimum wage seems to have first come under fire in 1941. In U.S. v. Darby Lumber Company, where it was questioned whether Congress has the constitutional power to prohibit interstate shipments of lumber manufactured by employees paid less than “minimum wage” and whether Congress had the power to prohibit employment of workers manufacturing interstate goods at less than “minimum wage”.
Not only did the Supreme Court decide that it was constitutional, but went into detail as to why it was legal. The Tenth Amendment states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Court’s response was “The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment, or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers.”
This might be a weak argument to some, a very loose interpretation of the Amendment and incorrect. However, the Commerce Clause in the Constitution gives an enumerated power to “regulate Commerce with Foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” There is also the Necessary and Proper Clause, which allows Congress to exercise whatever additional power is “necessary and proper” to carry out its enumerated rights.
The Supreme Court ruled that “The motive and purpose of the present regulation are plainly to make effective the Congressional conception of public policy that interstate commerce should not be made the instrument of competition in the distribution of goods produced under substandard labor conditions, which competition is injurious to the commerce and to the states from and to which the commerce flows. The motive and purpose of a regulation of interstate commerce are matters for the legislative judgment upon the exercise of which the Constitution places no restriction, and over which the courts are given no control.” What this simply means is that if it affects the ability of interstate commerce to effectively take place, Congress has the right to regulate it. Therefore, in order to maintain the safety and quality of interstate goods, the employees must be treated equally and fairly in regards to wages, hours, and safety, which to me is a very precise interpretation of the Constitution.
As with any decision made by the Supreme Court, you can disagree with it, debate it, celebrate it, or not let it bother you at all, but until they overturn their own decisions, you must follow it.