A misguided court ruling ignores the history of labor laws intended to keep blacks from working.
Did you know that the Constitution may prohibit states from setting uniform minimum-wage policies? Me neither.
But a federal appeals court ruled last week in favor of a group of plaintiffs challenging Alabama’s Minimum Wage Act. According to the court, the plaintiffs have “a plausible claim” that the law “had the purpose and effect of discriminating against Birmingham’s black citizens, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The case dates to 2016, when the Birmingham City Council enacted an ordinance that raised the city’s hourly minimum wage to $10.10 from the federal minimum of $7.25—a nearly 40% increase. A day after the law took effect, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Minimum Wage Act, which nullified the increase and mandated a single minimum wage throughout the state. Black fast-food workers sued, joined by black lawmakers and the NAACP, but a district court dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed, and last week’s decision by the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals returns the case to a lower court to consider the discrimination claims.
As ever, backers of the wage hike pitch it as an antipoverty measure. Birmingham’s City Council president said opponents are “keeping their boots on the necks of people in desperate need of financial relief” and that people “cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they can’t afford to buy boots.”