Freshman Tea Party-backed Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) recently offered a provocative interpretation of the Constitution he holds so dear, arguing that federal child labor laws go beyond the bounds of the document.
Here's what Lee, a constitutional lawyer, had to say in a recent lecture about his view that the nation's founding political text had been fundamentally breached (transcript via ThinkProgress):
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.
As ThinkProgress notes, Lee appears to ignore some other constitutional precedents on the matter:
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. Which explains why the Supreme Court unanimously overruled Hammer v. Daggenhardt in a 1941 decision called United States v. Darby.
Watch Senator Lee: