Senate Candidate Says Minimum Wage Is Unconstitutional

Matt Bevin campaigning in Lexington. CREDIT: SCOTT KEYES
Matt Bevin campaigning in Lexington. CREDIT: SCOTT KEYES

MADISONVILLE, Kentucky — Kentucky is not a wealthy state. It’s median household income is more than $10,000 lower than the national average, it’s poverty rate 25 percent higher.

Yet a Senate candidate has an idea that could push wages even lower: declare the federal minimum wage unconstitutional.

“I don’t see anywhere that it has been constitutionally-defined,” Matt Bevin, the Tea Party challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), told ThinkProgress this week. Bevin said that he not only opposes raising the minimum wage to $10.10, as President Obama is currently urging, but also believes that the federal government has no role telling businesses what they can pay their workers.

KEYES: One of the main issues in debate right now in Washington is the minimum wage. Some folks are arguing to raise it, keep it the same. There are even folks saying it’s not even the role of the federal government to be telling businesses what they should be paying their workers. Which camp do you put yourself in?

BEVIN: The latter is true if you look at the Constitution, back to what we said. Specifically, if you look at the enumerated powers to the federal government and to the states, you look at the Tenth Amendment. Tenth Amendment makes very clear that those powers not spelled out to the federal government or to the states in the Constitution are the responsibility of the states and of the people. So to that end, this is a state-level concern and issue.

KEYES: So does that mean, is the federal minimum wage unconstitutional in your mind?

BEVIN: I don’t see anywhere that it has been constitutionally-defined. That said, it is in existence now and I don’t see anybody in either party that’s calling for a repeal of it.

Listen to it:


Yet the institution charged with determining a law’s constitutionality — the Supreme Court — has already affirmed in United States v. Darby that the Commerce Clause permits a federal minimum wage.


Bevin is also mistaken that no lawmakers are trying to scrap the minimum wage altogether. Just last week, in fact, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told MSNBC that he doesn’t “believe there ought to be a national minimum wage.” Similarly, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) have said they favor abolishing the minimum wage.

Kentucky’s minimum wage is currently pegged to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a level of purchasing power nearly one-third less than the minimum wage in 1968. Even in its current diminished form, tens of thousands of Kentuckians must try to make ends meet as they work minimum wage jobs. If the minimum wage were raised to $10.10, a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute found that it would boost pay for 462,000 Kentuckians.