GIBBONS VS. OGDEN (1824) Who Has Power Over Interstate Commerce?
Under the Articles of Confederation, the national government had limited power.
States controlled business within their boundaries. The Constitution granted the
national Congress the power to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states.”
But what exactly did that power mean? What would happen when states passed
laws that affected business between states?
The Facts The Issue The Decision
• Aaron Ogden had a license from the
state of New York to run steamboats
between New York and New Jersey.
• Thomas Gibbons had a license from the federal government to run steamboats in the same area.
• A New York court ruled that Gibbons
had to stop running his boats but Ogden could continue to operate his.
• Gibbons appealed to the Supreme Court. Gibbons argued that
the commerce clause
of the Constitution
gave Congress the
exclusive right to
between states. • The Court said that
New York State law did not apply because the Constitution was the supreme law of the land.
• The Court also ruled that interstate commerce includes any business that crosses state boundaries.
WHY IT MATTERS
Gibbons v. Ogden clearly set forth the power of the national government to control
commerce between states. It also did something much more far-reaching. Ogden
had argued that Congress’s power did not apply to the facts in this case because
navigating boats on a river was not commerce. Only the buying and selling of goods,
he said, should be affected by this power of Congress. John Marshall, writing the
Court’s decision, rejected that idea. Commerce, he said, was any kind of business
interaction. It included the movement of people or goods by boat.
This decision opened broad areas of activity for the federal government. Congress
has used this power to pass laws such as granting workers the right to form unions, setting limits on child labor, requiring companies to pay a minimum wage, and banning racial discrimination. Congress has also passed laws regulating radio
and television, requiring that food and medicines are safe, and many others.
CONNECT TO YOUR WORLD
In recent years, the Court has moved to limit the power of Congress to use the
commerce clause to pass certain laws. Research to find a case from the last
10 years involving the commerce clause. Read about the law under question
and the Court’s decision.
Explain in one or two paragraphs whether you agree or disagree with the way the Court viewed the commerce clause.