Constitutional Law I, Pages 160–162

Gibbons v. Ogden

1824

Facts:

New York gave Livingston and Fulton the exclusive right to operate steamboats in New York waters. Livingston and Fulton licensed Ogden to operate a steamboat between New York and New Jersey. Gibbons got a license under a federal law permitting him to operate his steamboat in competition with Ogden.

Procedural History:

The New York courts enjoined Gibbons from further operation in New York waters.

Issue:

Can states impose their own regulations on their interstate commerce?

Reasoning:

Regulating commerce between nations requires having authority over navigation and the admission of vessels in foreign ports. Congress had exercised this power since the commencement of the government with the consent of all, understanding it to be a commercial regulation. The power to regulate commerce was one of the primary objects for which the federal government was formed. Congress' regulation was calculated to effect multiple objects entrusted to Congress—removing trade barriers, promote harmony, and remove undue burdens.

Commerce "among" states merely requires that it concerns more than one state, not that it actually enter the borders of multiple states. Congress has the power to pass laws that affect the US's relations with foreign nations and internal concerns of the states generally but not to commerce that is internal to a single state.

As this power is given to the federal government without restriction, they have the full power to regulate commerce, as if there was no state government. To give the states concurrent power over this would be incompatible with Congress' impliedly unlimited power. To allow New York to regulate its interstate commerce on its own would disturb the uniformity that Congress desired to accomplish, as it is clearly in conflict with Congress' law.

Holding:

No, states cannot impose their own regulations on interstate commerce. Reversed.

Concurring Opinion:

Johnson: The comer clause was established to eliminate protectionist state legislation. Even if there was no conflicting federal law preempting the New York law, it could still be struck down as in violation of the Commerce Clause.

Note:

This decision was overturned in Cooley.

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