208 U.S. 274 (1908), argued 4–5 Dec. 1907, decided 3 Feb. 1908 by vote of 9 to 0; Fuller for the Court. Popularly known as the Danbury Hatters’ Case, Loewe v. Lawlor grew out of a unionization effort promoted by a secondary boycott sponsored by the American Federation of Labor, which had no direct interest in the dispute. Loewe, an employer, brought a treble-damage suit against individual members of the United Hatters of North America, including the resident union agent, Martin Lawlor. The union denied that it was a combination as defined by the Sherman Antitrust Act.
For a unanimous Supreme Court, Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller insisted that every combination in restraint of trade was illegal. Fuller stated that the Sherman Act required the Court to consider the union's actions as a whole, regardless of the intrastate character of particular actions. Fuller denied that Congress had intended to exempt unions from coverage by the act and maintained, therefore, that individual union members could be held liable for damages under section 7 of the act.
From a union perspective, Loewe provided a galling contrast to United States v. E. C. Knight Co. (1895), which had exempted local activities of the nationwide Sugar Trust from the Sherman Act's prohibitions, while Loewe extended the act's coverage to comparable union actions. This made Loewe the most threatening of the Court's labor decisions, raising the specter of dissolution and damage suits against unions. Unions therefore moved into the political sphere, seeking statutory exemption from Congress. The Clayton Act of 1914 failed to provide explicit exemption, but relief ultimately came within the changed labor-management context in the late 1930s.
Barbara C. Steidle