Is Labor Law Internal or External to Private Law? The View from Cedar Point

Cynthia Estlund


This Article contrasts two views of the relationship between the fields of work law and private law. The “internal” view, propounded by Hanoch Dagan, would bring work law into the domain of private law by recentering the latter, including property law, around liberal values of reciprocal respect for autonomy. The “external” view locates the law of work in an overlapping but distinct domain that we might call “social law,” where it operates as a set of externally imposed conditions on the activity of employing others. When workers’ rights and interests come into conflict with those of owner-employers, the two views face off on the constitutional terrain of takings. In principle, the internal view might afford a better defense against takings challenges to laws that constrain property owners’ entitlements in the interest of those who work there, for it would redefine the former to reflect the latter. The external view relies more on takings law than property law to accommodate others’ interests when they conflict with traditional property rights. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Cedar Point Nurseries v. Hassid deals a heavy blow to both views. Its neo-Blackstonian conception of property rights rejects the notion that property law itself recognizes workers’ interests and entrenches that conception of property rights within the constitutional law of takings, sharpening the takings sword against social law’s regulation of property rights in the interest of others, including workers. Cedar Point thus underscores and magnifies the challenges that modern U.S. takings law, with its constitutional definition of property rights, poses to the advancement of workers’ rights, whether those are understood as internal or external to property law.

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