Rufus W. Peckham and Economic Liberty
James W. Ely Jr.
Vanderbilt University - Law School
March 11, 2008
Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 08-04
Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 08-10
It is striking that Justice Rufus W. Peckham has received so little scholarly attention and remains without a biography. He was, of course, the author of the Lochner v. New York (1905), one of the most famous and contested decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Peckham wrote important opinions dealing with contractual freedom, anti-trust law, eminent domain, dormant commerce power, and the Eleventh Amendment. He was clearly among the intellectual leaders of the Fuller Court. This paper seeks to take a fresh look at Peckham's career and assess his contributions to constitutional jurisprudence. The paper argues that Peckham, although a champion of economic liberty, was neither a doctrinaire adherent to laissez-faire principles or a one-sided defender of large-scale business interest. Instead, his overriding concern was to protect small, self-sufficient entrepreneurs from both excessive governmental regulation and exploitation by concentrated private power.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 62
Keywords: Peckham, Rufus W, Peckham, Lochner, liberty of contract, Gilded Age, eminent domain, Fuller Court
Date posted: March 12, 2008