Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Lochner v New York

Background on Lochner vs. New York

Andrew Coe, Food Historian, describes working conditions in bake shops during this time which provides background for this case. Randy Barnett and Paul Kens explain the Bake Shop Act.


The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution. Its rulings on cases determine the meaning of laws and acts of Congress and the president. Knowing the key decisions of the Supreme Court and the precedents they set is vital in understanding the meaning of laws, how our country has changed over time, and the direction the country is currently headed. In this lesson students will examine the case of Lochner v. New York.


  • STEP 1.

    As a class, view the following videos and answer the following questions to lay the foundation for students to understand this case.

    VIDEO CLIP: Early 20th Century Working Conditions (6:46)

    VIDEO CLIP: History of the Bake Shop Act of 1895 (2:48)


    • Describe working conditions in bakeries at the turn of the 20th Century.

    • What was happening in the U.S. at the turn of the century in terms of the economy, cities, public health and safety?

    • Explain the regulations that are detailed in the Bake Shop Act.

    • Explain the provision that was called into question in Lochner v New York.
  • STEP 2.

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips. They should take notes using the handout below:

    Handout: Supreme Court Case: Lochner v. New York (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: New York State Court of Appeals: People vs. Lochner (1:59)

    • Explain the argument Joseph Lochner’s attorney presented before the judges in this case.

    • Explain the opposing argument that was offered by the attorney general.
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Key Question of Lochner v. New York (2:17)

    • Describe the key question facing the Supreme Court in Lochner v. New York as it related to due process and liberty of contract.

    • Explain the difference between a law being “irrational” and “arbitrary.” Why is this important to the Lochner case?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Decision of Lochner v. New York (3:29)

    • Explain Justice Peckham’s majority opinion in Lochner v. New York.

    • Explain Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissenting opinion in Lochner v. New York.

    • According to Randy Barnett, what should the debate be about regarding the Court’s decision?
  • STEP 3.

    As a class, discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set, and its legacy.

  • STEP 4.

    Choose an activity from C-SPAN Classroom's Deliberations site to engage in a structured student-centered analysis of the case.

Additional Resource


  • 14th Amendment
  • Appellant
  • Arbitrary
  • Attorney General
  • Due Process
  • Gilded Age
  • Laissez Faire
  • Liberty Of Contract
  • Progressive Era
  • Reform
  • Respondent
  • Sanitary
  • Strike
  • Tammany Hall
  • Tenement
  • The Bake Shop Act
  • Union


Judicial BranchSupreme Court CasesU.S. History


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