Commerce and the Court: How and Why to Define the Commerce Issue Commerce has been part of our nation since we founded It. To every farmer, commerce was Important so that the food they grew would not spoil on waiting for transport. However, as the nation grew, our definition of commerce has changed many times. Debates over whether Congress had powers to control commerce sparked further debate on if the Courts had the right to define commerce. Every debated, including this one, has two sides that need to be explored. I believe that the Court has a major role In government.
The Courts are obliged o Interpret the Constitution and to clarify laws and acts that seem to be in conflict with the Constitution. This is the primary objective of the Court system. To say that the Court has overstepped its authority in defining commerce would be to take the purpose of the Court from the Court. Also, to say that the Court has met its obligation and should now stay out is to say that the framers ideal of checks and balances has worked and Is no longer needed In this matter. But my question Is how can It be done If the Constitution Is a living document that Is always changing and never static.
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In my opinion, the mere fact that these debates over the interpretation of what commerce means and how it is defined is the very reason the Court system was incorporated into our government. This is why the debate seems a bit lopsided in my opinion. As far as the topic at hand, It was clear that when states and the national government began to clash over the interpretation of commerce, It was time for the Court to step in. Without a clear definition of what commerce was, as well as what it meant by inter and intra state commerce, neither side of the controversy would never e settled.
The first test of a definition came in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. Chief Justice Marshall defined commerce not only as traffic, but also as intercourse. After that he said that the powers to regulate is thus vested in Congress to set the ground rules. This ruling started all kinds of controversy. Other cases have come up to question this same ideal. In Panama Refining Co. V. Ryan, the Court ruled that congress had delegated its commerce power improperly, and by doing such cased problems with interstate commerce.
This made an impact n the commerce issue by stating that by delegating powers with no limits to what the other party could do was In direct violation with the powers vested to Congress. Another case that made the headlines was that of Stretcher Poultry Corp.. V. United States. This case questioned the point at which interstate commerce ended and where intrastate commerce began. At issue was a poultry slaughterhouse that received chickens from various sources out of state but did all their respective dealings within the state of New York. Also at issue were the Nirvana’s demands on labor requirements.
The Court showed that all Interstate commerce had ended at the the United States Congress would have had the power to control aspects of the business under the Commerce Clause. It also stated that since the business was thus intrastate, the NAIRA could not set any kinds of labor restrictions or requirements on the company. While these cases seem to support my idea, I was struck by the differing decisions in other cases that seemed to be on the same track as the above cases. These include, but not limited to NULL v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.. , and United States v.
Derby, which had to do with the defining of “direct” and “indirect” effects on commerce and how to exercise the power to regulate activities that effect interstate commerce. It seems to me that the court began to run around in circles. It did not set down any defining moments and contradicted itself many times during the New Deal and Post New Deal. It is this reason alone that makes me agree with people who say that the Court should not define commerce because it can’t decide on which meaning it is going to follow. The decisions of the Court in Wickers v. Filbert really put me in a defensive mood.
To have Congress decide what a farmer could plant and consume within his own household seems to be outside its Jurisdiction. I did not see how one farmer could impact interstate commerce by growing food for his family, and consuming it on his farm. Had he been selling it on the side, the case would have looked different, but the fact that Congress had the right to interfere in this man’s private life with the Courts support is irritating. Finally, we come to the case of United States v. Lopez. This landmark case in the twentieth century helps us understand what commerce is and what it is most finitely not.
In this case, Lopez, a teenage boy, took a gun to school in violation of a Congressional “Gun-free school zone” act. When Lopper’s case went to trial, the lower courts found him in violation of the commerce clause. However, when this case reached the Supreme Court, the new “TOP GUN” was about to make his stand. Chief Justice Rehnquist said, ” Section 922 (q) was a criminal statute that had nothing to do with the Commerce Clause”. Justice Rehnquist said that carrying a gun did not interfere with interstate commerce and thus was out of the Jurisdiction of Congressional control.
Even though Justice Rehnquist ruled this way is in no way suggesting that Lopez was innocent of any crime. Carrying a concealed weapon was indeed a criminal offense but needed to be addressed properly and not hidden within a clause that was meant to regulate the transportation of goods across borders of all kinds. All in all, I would have to say that defining commerce and vesting power to regulate it was an important part of the Court’s Job. However, I would also have to agree with opponents in that the Court needs to make a clearer definition that does not leave so many vague hiding places for controversy to arise.