Despite its enormous influence on constitutional law, Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon is just such an opinion; the primary purpose of the author’s article Jam for Justice Holmes: Reassessing the Significance of Mahon is to clarify Holmes's intent by placing the opinion in historical context and in the context of Holmes's other opinions. While other scholars have also sought to place Mahon in context, his account differs in large part because of its recognition, as part of the background of Mahon, of a separate line of cases involving businesses affected with a public interest.
The author argues that at the time Holmes wrote Mahon, cases involving businesses affected with a public interest were the only ones in which the constitutionality of regulations turned on the effect those regulations had on property values. Previous scholars have either overlooked these cases altogether or collapsed them in with other substantive due process cases without recognizing their analytic distinctiveness. The consistent treatment of Mahon as a conservative decision follows. Mahon is sometimes seen as a case that supplemented substantive due process by giving judges a new tool to invalidate statutes; under this view, as a result of Mahon, regulations could, for the first time, be overturned because they diminished value too greatly. Alternately, Mahon is seen as a Lochner-type case, reaffirming the principle that regulations that diminish value were unconstitutional as previously recognized by that line of cases.
86 Geo. L.J. 933-943 (1998)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Treanor, William Michael, "Understanding Mahon in Historical Context" (1998). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1039.