By Douglas Pahl
The most recent USDCHS Famous Cases presentation took place on June 28, 2018, graciously hosted by Perkins Coie LLP.
In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted legislation for the protection of women in the workplace. An impressive panel, moderated by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, took on the Famous Case of Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908), in which the High Court upheld Oregon’s 1903 statute establishing a maximum 10-hour workday for women working in industrial laundries.
Although limiting working hours for women was motivated by a desire to protect women, advocates for gender equity have regarded the statute and the Muller decision with disdain, as it has often been used as precedent to justify practices that undermined advancement of women, a viewpoint eloquently set forth by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her 2009 article on the case that appeared in the Willamette Law Review (45 W.L.Rev. 359 (2009). Muller is also a Famous Case for generating the first so-called “Brandeis Brief.” The State of Oregon hired Louis Brandeis to defend the Oregon statute. In doing so, he presented a pioneering legal brief that relied more on scientific information than legal authority.
Attorney General Rosenblum, a founder of the Famous Cases program, moderated a June 2018 panel comprised of Prof. Allison Gash, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon; Prof. David Horowitz, a professor of history at Portland State University; and the Hon. Jack Landau, Oregon Supreme Court (retired). Professor Gash described the legal precursors and context that led to the Muller decision and provided an overview of the case and its legacy. Professor Horowitz put the case in the context of national and global political environment, including the populist movement in the decades leading up to the decision. Finally, Justice Landau discussed the Brandeis Brief and the hazards of using social science in judicial decision making, as well as other effects of the Muller decision. Attorney General Rosenblum then engaged the panel in a lively discussion of the complex legacy of the Muller decision, taking numerous questions from the audience.