This case arose from a national boycott organized by the United Hatters Union to win recognition for a local union in Danbury, Connecticut.  The Court had to decide whether the Sherman Anti-Trust Act applied to interstate union activities.

LOEWE v. LAWLOR, 208 U.S. 274 (1908)

Argued December 4, 5, 1907.
Decided February 3, 1908.



Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:


            In our opinion, the combination described in the declaration is a combination 'in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states,' in the sense in which those words are used in the act, and the action can be maintained accordingly.

            And that conclusion rests on many judgments of this court, to the effect that the act prohibits any combination whatever to secure action which essentially obstructs the free flow of commerce between the states, or restricts, in that regard, the liberty of a trader to engage in business.

            The combination charged falls within the class of restraints of trade aimed at compelling third parties and strangers involuntarily not to engage in the course of trade except on conditions that the combination imposes; and there is no doubt that (to quote from the well-known work of Chief Justice Erle on Trade Unions) 'at common law every person has individually, and the public also has collectively, a right to require that the course of trade should be kept free from unreasonable obstruction.' But the objection here is to the jurisdiction, because, even conceding that the declaration states a case good at common law, it is contended that it does not state one within the statute. Thus, it is said that the restraint alleged would operate to entirely destroy plaintiffs' business and thereby include intrastate trade as well; that physical obstruction is not alleged as contemplated; and that defendants are not themselves engaged in interstate trade.

            We think none of these objections are tenable, and that they are disposed of by previous decisions of this court.

United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Asso. 166 U.S. 290 , 41 L. ed. 1007, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 540; United States v. Joint Traffic Asso. 171 U.S. 505 , 43 L. ed. 259, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 25; and Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 , 48 L. ed. 679, 24 Sup. Ct. Rep. 436, hold, in effect, that the anti-trust law has a broader application than the prohibition of restraints of trade unlawful at common law. Thus, in the Trans-Missouri Case it was said that, 'assuming that agreements of this nature are not void at common law, and that the various cases cited by the learned courts below show it, the answer to the statement of their validity now is to be found in the terms of the statute under consideration;' and, in the Northern Securities Case, that the act declares 'illegal every contract, combination, or conspiracy, in whatever form, of whatever nature, and whoever may be parties to it, which directly or necessarily operates in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states.'

We do not pause to comment on cases such as United States v. E. C. Knight Co. 156 U.S. 1 , 39 L. ed. 325, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 249; Hopkins v. United States, 171 U.S. 578 , 43 L. ed. 290, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 40; and Anderson v. United States, 171 U.S. 604 , 43 L. ed. 300, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 50, in which the undisputed facts showed that the purpose of the agreement was not to obstruct or restrain interstate commerce. The object and intention of the combination determined its legality.


The averments here are that there was an existing interstate traffic between plaintiffs and citizens of other states, and that, for the direct purpose of destroying such interstate traffic, defendants combined not merely to prevent plaintiffs from manufacturing articles then and there intended for transportation beyond the state, but also to prevent the vendees from reselling that hats which they had imported from Connecticut, or from further negotiating with plaintiffs for the purchase and intertransportation of such hats from Connecticut to the various places of destination. So that, although some of the means whereby the interstate traffic was to be destroyed were acts within a state, and some of them were, in themselves, as a part of their obvious purpose and effect, beyond the scope of Federal authority, still, as we have seen, the acts must be considered as a whole, and the plan is open to condemnation, notwithstanding a negligible amount of intrastate business might be affected in carrying it out. If the purposes of the combination were, as alleged, to prevent any interstate transportation at all, the fact that the means operated at one end before physical transportation commenced, and, at the other end, after the physical transportation ended, was immaterial.

            Nor can the act in question be held inapplicable because defendants were not themselves engaged in interstate commerce. The act made no distinction between classes. It provided that 'every' contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade was illegal. The records of Congress show that several efforts were made to exempt, by legislation, organizations of farmers and laborers from the operation of the act, and that all these efforts failed, so that the act remained as we have it before us.


In an early case (United States v. Workingmen's Amalgamated Council, 26 L.R.A. 158, 4 Inters. Com. Rep. 831, 54 Fed. 994) the United States filed a bill under the Sherman act in the circuit court for the eastern district of Louisiana, averring the existence of 'a gigantic and widespread combination of the members of a multitude of separate organizations for the purpose of restraining the commerce among the several states and with foreign countries,' and it was contended that the statute did not refer to combinations of laborers. But the court, granting the injunction, said:

'I think the congressional debates show that the statute had its origin in the evils of massed capital; but, when the Congress came to formulating the prohibition, which is the yardstick for measuring the complainant's right to the injunction, [208 U.S. 274, 302]   it expressed it in these words: 'Every contract or combination in the form of trust, or otherwise in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states or with foreign nations, is hereby declared to be illegal.' The subject had so broadened in the minds of the legislators that the source of the evil was not regarded as material, and the evil in its entirety is dealt with. They made the interdiction include combinations of labor as well as of capital; in fact, all combinations in restraint of commerce, without reference to the character of the persons who entered into them. It is true this statute has not been much expounded by judges, but, as it seems to me, its meaning, as far as relates to the sort of combinations to which it is to apply, is manifest, and that it includes combinations which are composed of laborers acting in the interest of laborers


At the risk of tediousness, we repeat that the complaint averred that plaintiffs were manufacturers of hats in Danbury, Connecticut, having a factory there, and were then and there engaged in an interstate trade in some twenty states other than the state of Connecticut; that they were practically dependent upon such interstate trade to consume the product of their factory, only a small percentage of their entire output being consumed in the state of Connecticut; that, at the time the alleged combination was formed, they were in the process of manufacturing a large number of hats for the purpose of fulfilling engagements then actually made with consignees and wholesale dealers in states other than Connecticut, and that, if prevented from carrying on the work of manufacturing these hats, they would be unable to complete their engagements.

            That defendants were members of a vast combination called The United Hatters of North America, comprising about 9,000 members, and including a large number of subordinate unions, and that they were combined with some 1,400,000 others into another association known as The American Federation of Labor, of which they were members, whose members resided in all the places in the several states where the wholesale dealers in hats and their customers resided and did business; that defendants were 'engaged in a combined scheme and effort to force all manufacturers of fur hats in the United States, including the plaintiffs, against their will and their previous policy of carrying on their business, to organize their workmen in the departments of making and finishing, in each of their factories, into an organization, to be part and parcel of the said combination known as the United Hatters of North America, or, as the defendants and their confederates term it, to unionize their shops, with the intent thereby to control the employment of labor in and the operation of said factories, and to subject the same to the direction and control of persons other than the owners of the same, in a manner extremely onerous and distasteful to such owners, and to carry out such scheme, effort, and purpose by restraining and destroying the interstate trade and commerce of such manufacturers, by means of intimidation of and threats made to such manufacturers and their customers in the several states, of boycotting them, their product, and their customers, using therefor all the powerful means at their command as aforesaid, until such time as, from the damage and loss of business resulting therefrom, the said manufacturers should yield to the said demand to unionize their factories.'

            That the conspiracy or combination was so far progressed that out of eighty-two manufacturers of this country engaged in the production of fur hats, seventy had accepted the terms and acceded to the demand that the shop should be conducted in accordance, so far as conditions of employment were concerned, with the will of the American Federation of Labor; that the local union demanded of plaintiffs that they should unionize their shop under peril of being boycotted by this combination, which demand plaintiffs declined to comply with; that thereupon the American Federation of Labor, acting through its official organ and through its organizers, declared a boycott. The complaint then thus continued:

20. On or about July 25, 1902, the defendants individually and collectively, and as members of said combinations and associations, and with other persons whose names are unknown to the plaintiffs, associated with them, in pursuance of the general scheme and purpose aforesaid, to force all manufacturers of fur hats, and particularly the plaintiffs, to so unionize their factories, wantonly, wrongfully, maliciously, unlawfully, and in violation of the provisions of the 'act of Congress approved July 2, 1890' [26 Stat. at L. 209, chap. 647, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3200], and entitled 'An Act to Protect Trade and Commerce Against Unlawful Restraints and Monopolies,' and with intent to injure the property and business of the plaintiffs by means of acts done which are forbidden and declared to be unlawful by said act of Conpress, entered into a combination and conspiracy to restrain the plaintiffs and their customers in states other than Connecticut, in carrying on said trade and commerce among the several states, and to wholly prevent them from engaging in and carrying on said trade and commerce between them and to prevent the plaintiffs from selling their hats to wholesale dealers and purchasers in said states other than Connecticut, and to prevent said dealers and customers in said other states from buying the same, and to prevent the plaintiffs from obtaining orders for their hats from such customers, and filling the same, and shipping said hats to said customers in said states, as aforesaid, and thereby injure the plaintiffs in their property and business, and to render unsalable the product and output of their said factory, so the subject of interstate commerce, in whosoever's hands the same might be or come, through said interstate trade and commerce, and to employ as means to carry out said combination and conspiracy and the purposes thereof, and accomplish the same, the following measures and acts, viz.:

'To cause, by means of threats and coercion, and without warning or information to the plaintiffs, the concerted and simultaneous withdrawal of all the makers and finishers of hats then working for them, who were not members of their said combination, the United Hatters of North America, as well as those who were such members, and thereby cripple the operation of the plaintiffs' factory, and prevent the plaintiffs from filling a large number of orders then on hand, from such wholesale dealers in states other than Connecticut, which they had engaged to fill and were then in the act of filling, as was well known to the defendants; in connection therewith to declare a boycott against all hats made for sale and sold and delivered, or to be so sold or delivered, by the plaintiffs to said wholesale dealers in states other than Connecticut, and to actively boycott the same and the business of those who should deal in them, and thereby prevent the sale of the same by those in whose hands they might be or come through said interstate trade in said several states; to procure and cause others of said combinations united with them in said American Federation of Labor in like manner to declare a boycott against, and to actively boycott, the same and the business of such wholesale dealers as should buy or sell them, and of those who should purchase them from such wholesale dealers; to intimidate such wholesale dealers from purchasing or dealing in the hats of the plaintiffs by informing them that the American Federation of Labor had declared a boycott against the product of the plaintiffs and against any dealer who should handle it, and that the same was to be actively pressed against them, and by distributing circulars containing notices that such dealers and their customers were to be boycotted; to threaten with a boycott those customers who should buy any goods whatever, even though union-made, of such boycotted dealers, and at the same time to notify such wholesale dealers that they were at liberty to deal in the hats of any other nonunion manufacturer of similar quality to those made by the plaintiffs, but must not deal in the hats made by the plaintiffs under threats of such boycotting; to falsely represent to said wholesale dealers and their customers, that the plaintiffs had discriminated against the union men in their employ, had thrown them out of employment because they refused to give up their union cards and teach boys, who were intended to take their places after seven months' instruction, and had driven their employees to extreme measures 'by their persistent, unfair, and un-American policy of antagonizing union labor, forcing wages to a starvation scale, and giving boys and cheap, unskilled foreign labor preference over experienced and capable union workmen,' in order to intimidate said dealers from purchasing said hats by reason of the prejudice thereby created against the plaintiffs and the hats made by them among those who might otherwise purchase them; to use the said union label of said the United Hatters of North America as an instrument to aid them in carrying out said conspiracy and combination against the plaintiffs' and their customers' interstate trade aforesaid, and, in connection with the boycotting above mentioned, for the purpose of describing and identifying the hats of the plaintiffs and singling them out to be so boycotted; to employ a large number of agents to visit said wholesale dealers and their customers, at their several places of business, and threaten them with loss of business if they should buy or handle the hats of the plaintiffs, and thereby prevent them from buying said hats, and, in connection therewith, to cause said dealers to be waited upon by committees representing large combinations of persons in their several localities to make similar threats to them; to use the daily press in the localities where such wholesale dealers reside and do business, to announce and advertise the said boycotts against the hats of the plaintiffs and said wholesale dealers, and thereby make the same more effective and oppressive, and to use the columns of their said paper, the Journal of the United Haters of North America, for that purpose, and to describe the acts of their said agents in prosecuting the same.'

            And then followed the averments that the defendants proceeded to carry out their combination to restrain and destroy interstate trade and commerce between plaintiffs and their customers in other states by employing the identical means contrived for that purpose; and that, by reason of those acts, plaintiffs were damaged in their business and property in some $80,000.

We think a case within the statute [Sherman Anti-Trust Act] was set up and that the demurrer should have been overruled.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded with a direction to proceed accordingly.