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SMITH V. TEXAS, 233 U. S. 630 (1914)

U.S. Supreme Court

Smith v. Texas, 233 U.S. 630 (1914)

Smith v. Texas

No. 268

Argued March 12, 1914

Decided May 11, 1914

233 U.S. 630


Life, liberty, property and equal protection of the laws, as grouped together in the Constitution, are so related that the deprivation of any one may lessen or extinguish the value of the others.

Insofar as a man is deprived of the right to labor, his liberty is restricted, his capacity to earn wages and acquire property is lessened, and he is denied the protection which the law affords those who are permitted to work.

Liberty means more than freedom from servitude, and the constitutional guarantee is an assurance that the citizen shall be protected in the right to use his powers of mind and body in any lawful calling.

A state may prescribe qualifications and require an examination to test the fitness of any person to engage, or remain, in the public calling.

While the state may legislate in regard to the fitness of persons privately employed in a business in which public health and safety are concerned, the tests and prohibitions must be enacted with reference to such business, and not so as to unlawfully interfere with private business or impose unusual and unnecessary restrictions upon lawful occupations. Lawton v. Steele, 152 U. S. 133.

Arbitrary tests by which competent persons are excluded from lawful employment must be avoided in state regulations of employment in private business affecting public health and safety. Smith v. Alabama, 124 U. S. 465.

The statute of Texas of 1909 prohibiting any person from acting as a conductor on a railroad train without having for two years prior thereto worked as a brakeman or conductor of a freight train, and prescribing no other qualifications, excludes the whole body of the

Page 233 U. S. 631

public from the right to secure employment a conductor, and amount, as to persons competent to fill the position but who have not the specified qualification, to a denial of the equal protection of the law.

A state cannot, in permitting certain competent person to accept a specified private employment, lay down a test which absolutely prohibits other competent persons from entering that employment.

Quaere whether such a statute is not also unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause as applied to conductor employed on train engaged in interstate commerce.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the statute of Texas of 1909 prescribing qualifications for conductors on railroad trains, are stated in the opinion.

Page 233 U. S. 635

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