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Case Basics
Docket No. 
W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor, et al.
Facts of the Case 

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (Act) requires every employer to pay each of his employees engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce a minimum hourly wage and a higher rate for exceeding a maximum number of hours per week. The Act excluded the federal government or any state government or political subdivision from the definition of “employer.” In 1961, the Act was amended to include employees of any enterprise engaged in commerce or production of commerce, such as the operation of a hospital or any place that cares for the sick, a school, or an institution of higher education. The Act also removed the exemption for the state governments and their political subdivisions.

The state of Maryland and twenty-seven other states sued W. Willard Wirtz, the Secretary of Labor, to prevent the enforcement of the Act as it applied to schools and hospitals operated by states or their subdivisions. The states argued this expansion of the Act was unconstitutional because it violated the Commerce Clause and conflicted with the Eleventh Amendment’s protection of states’ sovereign immunity. A three-judge district court held that the extension of the Act’s coverage to commercial enterprise and state institutions did not exceed Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause because it did not transgress the sovereignty of the states. However, the court declined to consider the Eleventh Amendment issue. Maryland appealed directly to the Supreme Court.


Does the expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act to include schools and hospitals operated by states or their subdivisions violate the Commerce Clause and the Eleventh Amendment?

Decision: 6 votes for Wirtz, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 3: Interstate Commerce Clause

No. Justice John Marshall Harlan, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 6-2 majority. The Court held that the inclusion of commercial enterprises is constitutional because otherwise commercial enterprises that utilize substandard wages and excessive hours would have an advantage over other companies. Substandard labor conditions also lead to labor disputes and strikes, which Congress wanted to avoid. Furthermore, the Court held that the Act did not interfere with states’ sovereignty by telling them how to perform medical and educational functions; rather it subjected a state that employs people performing such functions to the same restrictions as other employers whose activities affect commerce. Therefore, the Court held that minimum wage amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act extending to non-professional, non-executive and non-administrative employers of state public schools, hospitals, and related institutions was also constitutional.

Justice William O. Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that bringing employees of state-owned enterprises under the auspices of the Fair Labor Standards Act was an invasion of state sovereignty. Requiring states to pay employees minimum wage would force them to increase taxes, lower the standard of services in these institutions, reduce services in other government activities, and refrain from entering into new governmental fields needed for social change. The Act therefore affected the states fiscally and was a clear invasion of state sovereignty. Justice Potter Stewart joined the dissent.

Justice Thurgood Marshall took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

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MARYLAND v. WIRTZ. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
MARYLAND v. WIRTZ, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"MARYLAND v. WIRTZ," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,