The wizards in Harry Potter’s world have Time-Turners. The characters in Outlander use the stones at Craigh Na Dun to jump between the 1940s and 18th century Scotland. In the Back to the Future franchise, Marty and Doc need 1.21 gigawatts of power to get their DeLorean time machine moving. Those of us not living in a fantasy world have Congress to thank for our time traveling abilities.
Since WWII, the United States has sprung our clocks forward one hour each spring, and fallen back an hour each fall. Now, there is a movement to permanently adopt Daylight Savings Time and abandon Standard Time.
Legislation officially titled the “Sunshine Protection Act” passed the Senate by unanimous consent, and is now headed to the House of Representatives. If approved by the House, and signed into law by President Joe Biden, Americans would spring forward in 2023 and never fall back again.
As we wait and see if our biannual time traveling is nearing an end, many people are asking why Congress has the power to control our clocks. The Dressel/Malikschmitt team decided to take a closer look.
Benjamin Franklin, WWI, and the Commerce Clause
As we all learned during the Philadelphia scenes of the movie National Treasure, Benjamin Franklin was the first person to suggest that we should shift our sleep schedule and avoid burning candles at night. He was joking, but around the turn of the 20th century, others started to seriously advocate for more daylight in the evening hours.
During World War I, the Germans took the idea of daylight savings and ran with it in hopes of cutting energy use. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “the United States followed suit, temporarily implementing daylight saving, then known as ‘war time.’ (The legislation also established time zones across the country.)”
“The practice returned during World War II, and at the end of the war, parts of the United States didn’t want to give it up. So, time varied from town to town. Individual jurisdictions chose whether to keep daylight saving time and when to change the clocks, creating a chaotic patchwork system… [At one point] there were seven time changes over a 35-mile bus ride from Steubenville, Ohio to Moundsville, West Virginia.”
This was obviously challenging for businesses that operated in multiple locations or in the transportation industry. It also frustrated the broadcast television industry, which wanted to attract more viewers by showing the most popular programs in “prime time.” These businesses successfully lobbied Congress to use its power to regulate interstate commerce to impose nation-wide rules governing time changes.
“The Uniform Time Act of 1966 succeeded in mandating national start and end dates for daylight-saving time, The act also established three new time zones, incorporating Alaska and Hawaii which were not covered by the zones established in 1918. However, the bill did not succeed in requiring nationwide observance of daylight-saving time, allowing states to opt-out if their legislatures passed measures to remain in standard time year-round.”
Changing Times Call for Changing Time
The law has changed several times over the last 50 years.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Congress passed legislation adopting permanent Daylight Savings Time. The change had widespread support until the dark winter months when some areas of the country did not see the sun rise until after 8:30 AM and several children died while traveling to school in the dark.
The most recent change was made in 2007, when the annual return to Standard Time was pushed back at the behest of “big candy” in order to give trick-or-treat-ers more evening daylight on Halloween.
The current debate over permanently adopting Daylight Savings Time is intense, with strong advocates on both sides. Don’t let the fact that the “Sunshine Protection Act” passed the Senate unanimously fool you. The legislation slipped through a procedural loophole, and many lawmakers were unaware the subject was up for a vote. It is unclear what will happen to the bill in the House, or what Biden will do if it makes it to his desk.
Time Is on Your Side, And So Is Dressel/Malikschmitt
The laws of physics may dictate how long it takes for the Earth to revolve on its axis, but many aspects of time as we know it are man-made. This is yet another reminder of the important role that the law plays in our day to day life.
Whether you want to chat about the time change, or have more pressing issues facing you, the Dressel/Malikschmitt team is here for you. We are proud of the work we do to help our clients navigate the law, and deal with the many ways it impacts their lives and livelihoods. If you are in need of legal assistance, we are ready to listen to your story, and help you figure out if there is a path forward. Please contact us today to schedule a meeting.