Commerce Clause

Puck magazine cartoon depicts the Standard Oil Company as an octopus using its tentacles to snare the White House, Congress, and various State Houses; who will be next?, 1904.
Bronx-born Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
CUNY School fo Law Professor Julie Goldscheid has litigated cases defending the civil rigths remedy of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), including United States v. Morrison, which tested the law's constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 3, gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The meaning of “commerce” has been a constant source of controversy, as the Constitution does not explicitly define the word. Generally, in matters of interstate commerce, the national Congress asserts power; but in intrastate commerce, the states retain control.

Supreme Court interpretations of the Commerce Clause have enabled the national government to regulate issues that some argue are purely local. In 1933, amidst the Great Depression, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) established “codes of fair competition” that fixed prices and wages, and established production quotas in multiple industries. However, the Supreme Court struck down the NIRA in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935) as an unconstitutional use of executive power over interstate commerce.

In 1937, President Roosevelt sought to save New Deal legislation and tilt the scales in his direction by increasing the number of justices on the Court. Although FDR’s “court packing” plan never came to pass, the Court’s view changed and in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937) it upheld the right of Congress to intervene in activities affecting national commerce including employer/union relations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion, and subsequent Court opinions in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964) and Katzenbach v. McClung (1964) interpreted the Commerce Clause to facilitate compliance with desegregation laws.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), with four Justices finding Congressional power under the Commerce Clause, and Chief Justice Roberts joining the majority, but finding Congressional power based on its taxing power.

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