Rufus W. Peckham and Economic Liberty

62 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2008 Last revised: 25 Jan 2018

See all articles by James W. Ely

James W. Ely

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: March 11, 2008


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.

Keywords: Peckham, Rufus W, Peckham, Lochner, liberty of contract, Gilded Age, eminent domain, Fuller Court

Suggested Citation

Ely, James W., Rufus W. Peckham and Economic Liberty (March 11, 2008). 62 Vanderbilt Law Review, 591 (2009), Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 08-04, Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 08-10, Available at SSRN: or

James W. Ely (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics