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19th Century Supreme Court's Interventionist Policy

The late 19th century marked a time of civil and economic upheaval in the United States. The era of Reconstruction which followed the Civil War tested the very fiber of our nation, which at the time was evolving at a fantastic pace both socially and economically. By the late 1880s the Supreme Court had begun "to respond more directly to the social and political pressures of the emerging industrial order" (386). The staggering social transformations of the day coupled with the beginnings of Industrialization seemed to necessitate this new posture for the Federal Judiciary, as the ensuing economic changes had left a void in governance at the legislative and executive levels (362-365, 404). The solution: the Supreme Court would pick up the slack, adopting an "activist, interventionist posture" (386) which would promote a broad concept of property rights and due process of law; a concept that would ultimately provide a substantive economic interpretation to the Fourteenth Amendment (387, 404).

In becoming more activist and interventionist, the Supreme Court would, in the late 19th century, write into constitutional law "substantive due process, liberty of contract, the distinction between commerce and manufacturing, the labor injunction, and limitations on the police power" of the state (403). The Fourteenth Amendment would be heavily utilized during this period, as the due process of law clause would provide the judiciary with the doctrinal instrument necessary to call into question any state statute or act which imposed limitations upon the right of property or free contract (404).

Interestingly, in these latter years of the 19th century, the Supreme Court usually adopted a tolerant attitude toward state legislation, upholding it most of the time (405). In the case of Collecter v. Day (1871) for example, the Court "declared that the states and the federal government were separate and distinct sovereignties, and that in th...

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19th Century Supreme Court's Interventionist Policy. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:09, April 21, 2019, from