Section 8: Powers of Congress
Clause 1. Power to Tax and Spend Clause 1. The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. Kinds of Taxes Permitted By the terms of the Constitution, the power of Congress to levy taxes is subject to but one exception and two qualifications. Articles exported from any State may not be taxed at all. Direct taxes must be levied by the rule of apportionment and indirect taxes by the rule of uniformity. The Court has emphasized the sweeping character of this power by saying from time to time that it "reaches every subject,"
that it is "exhaustive" or that it "embraces every conceivable power of taxation." Despite these generalizations, the power has been at times substantially curtailed by judicial decision with respect to the subject matter of taxation, the manner in which taxes are imposed, and the objects for which they may be levied.
Decline of the Forbidden Subject Matter Test.-The Supreme Court has restored to Congress the power to tax most of the subject matter which had previously been withdrawn from its reach by judicial decision. The holding of Evans v. Gore and Miles v. Graham that the inclusion of the salaries received by federal judges in measuring the liability for a nondiscriminatory income tax violated the constitutional mandate that the compensation of such judges should not be diminished during their continuance in office was repudiated in O'Malley v. Woodrough. The specific ruling of Collector v. Day that the salary of a state officer is immune to federal income taxation also has been overruled. But the principle underlying that decision-that Congress may not lay a tax which would impair the sovereignty of the States-is still recognized as retaining some vitality.
Federal Taxation of State Interests.-In 1903 a succession tax upon a bequest to a municipality for public purposes was upheld on the ground that the tax was payable out of the estate before distribution to the legatee. Looking to form and not to substance, in disregard of the mandate of Brown v. Maryland, a closely divided Court declined to "regard it as a tax upon the municipality, though it might operate incidentally to reduce the bequest by the amount of the tax." When South Carolina embarked upon the business of dispensing alcoholic beverages, its agents were held to be subject to the national internal revenue tax, the ground of the holding being that in 1787 such a business was not regarded as one of the ordinary functions of government.
Another decision marking a clear departure from the logic of Collector v. Day was Flint v. Stone Tracy Co., where the Court sustained an act of Congress taxing the privilege of doing business as a corporation, the tax being measured by the income. The argument that the tax imposed an unconstitutional burden on the exercise by a State of its reserved power to create corporate franchises was rejected, partly in consideration of the principle of national supremacy, and partly on the ground that the corporate franchises were private property. This case also qualified Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. to the extent of allowing interest on state bonds to be included in measuring the tax on the corporation.
Subsequent cases have sustained an estate tax on the net estate of a decedent, including state bonds, excise taxes on the transportation of merchandise in performance of a contract to sell and deliver it to a county, on the importation of scientific apparatus by a state university, on admissions to athletic contests sponsored by a state institution, the net proceeds of which were used to further its educational program, and on admissions to recreational facilities operated on a nonprofit basis by a municipal corporation. Income derived by independent engineering contractors from the performance of state functions, the compensation of trustees appointed to manage a street railway taken over and operated by a State, profits derived from the sale of state bonds, or from oil produced by lessees of state lands, have all been held to be subject to federal taxation despite a possible economic burden on the State.
In finally overruling Pollock, the Court stated that Pollock had "merely represented one application of the more general rule that neither the federal nor the state governments could tax income an individual directly derived from any contract with another government." That rule, the Court observed, had already been rejected in numerous decisions involving intergovernmental immunity. "We see no constitutional reason for treating persons who receive interest on governmental bonds differently than persons who receive income from other types of contracts with the government, and no tenable rationale for distinguishing the costs imposed on States by a tax on state bond interest from the costs imposed by a tax on the income from any other state contract."
Scope of State Immunity From Federal Taxation.-Although there have been sharp differences of opinion among members of the Supreme Court in cases dealing with the tax immunity of state functions and instrumentalities, it has been stated that "all agree that not all of the former immunity is gone." Twice, the Court has made an effort to express its new point of view in a statement of general principles by which the right to such immunity shall be determined. However, the failure to muster a majority in concurrence with any single opinion in the latter case leaves the question very much in doubt. In Helvering v. Gerhardt, where, without overruling Collector v. Day, it narrowed the immunity of salaries of state officers from federal income taxation, the Court announced "two guiding principles of limitation for holding the tax immunity of State instrumentalities to its proper function. The one, dependent upon the nature of the function being performed by the State or in its behalf, excludes from the immunity activities thought not to be essential to the preservation of State governments even though the tax be collected from the State treasury.... The other principle, exemplified by those cases where the tax laid upon individuals affects the State only as the burden is passed on to it by the taxpayer, forbids recognition of the immunity when the burden on the State is so speculative and uncertain that if allowed it would restrict the federal taxing power without affording any corresponding tangible protection to the State government; even though the function be thought important enough to demand immunity from a tax upon the State itself, it is not necessarily protected from a tax which well may be substantially or entirely absorbed by private persons."
The second attempt to formulate a general doctrine was made in New York v. United States, where, on review of a judgment affirming the right of the United States to tax the sale of mineral waters taken from property owned and operated by the State of New York, the Court reconsidered the right of Congress to tax business enterprises carried on by the States. Justice Frankfurter, speaking for himself and Justice Rutledge, made the question of discrimination vel non against state activities the test of the validity of such a tax. They found "no restriction upon Congress to include the States in levying a tax exacted equally from private persons upon the same subject matter." In a concurring opinion in which Justices Reed, Murphy, and Burton joined, Chief Justice Stone rejected the criterion of discrimination. He repeated what he had said in an earlier case to the effect that "the limitation upon the taxing power of each, so far as it affects the other, must receive a practical construction which permits both to function with the minimum of interference each with the other; and that limitation cannot be so varied or extended as seriously to impair either the taxing power of the government imposing the tax . . . or the appropriate exercise of the functions of the government affected by it."
Justices Douglas and Black dissented in an opinion written by the former on the ground that the decision disregarded the Tenth Amendment, placed "the sovereign States on the same plane as private citizens," and made them "pay the Federal Government for the privilege of exercising powers of sovereignty guaranteed them by the Constitution." In a later case dealing with state immunity the Court sustained the tax on the second ground mentioned in Helvering v. Gerhardt-that the burden of the tax was borne by private persons-and did not consider whether the function was one which the Federal Government might have taxed if the municipality had borne the burden of the exaction.
Articulation of the current approach may be found in South Carolina v. Baker. The rules are "essentially the same" for federal immunity from state taxation and for state immunity from federal taxation, except that some state activities may be subject to direct federal taxation, while States may "never" tax the United States directly. Either government may tax private parties doing business with the other government, "even though the financial burden falls on the [other government], as long as the tax does not discriminate against the [other government] or those with which it deals." Thus, "the issue whether a nondiscriminatory federal tax might nonetheless violate state tax immunity does not even arise unless the Federal Government seeks to collect the tax directly from a State."
Uniformity Requirement.-Whether a tax is to be apportioned among the States according to the census taken pursuant to Article I, § 2, or imposed uniformly throughout the United States depends upon its classification as direct or indirect. The rule of uniformity for indirect taxes is easy to obey. It requires only that the subject matter of a levy be taxed at the same rate wherever found in the United States; or, as it is sometimes phrased, the uniformity required is "geographical," not "intrinsic." Even the geographical limitation is a loose one, at least if United States v. Ptasynski is followed. There, the Court upheld an exemption from a crude-oil windfall-profits tax of "Alaskan oil," defined geographically to include oil produced in Alaska (or elsewhere) north of the Arctic Circle. What is prohibited, the Court said, is favoritism to particular States in the absence of valid bases of classification. Because Congress could have achieved the same result, allowing for severe climactic difficulties, through a classification tailored to the "disproportionate costs and difficulties . . . associated with extracting oil from this region," the fact that Congress described the exemption in geographic terms did not condemn the provision.
The clause accordingly places no obstacle in the way of legislative classification for the purpose of taxation, nor in the way of what is called progressive taxation. A taxing statute does not fail of the prescribed uniformity because its operation and incidence may be affected by differences in state laws. A federal estate tax law which permitted deduction for a like tax paid to a State was not rendered invalid by the fact that one State levied no such tax. The term "United States" in this clause refers only to the States of the Union, the District of Columbia, and incorporated territories. Congress is not bound by the rule of uniformity in framing tax measures for unincorporated territories. Indeed, in Binns v. United States, the Court sustained license taxes imposed by Congress but applicable only in Alaska, where the proceeds, although paid into the general fund of the Treasury, did not in fact equal the total cost of maintaining the territorial government.
Purposes of Taxation
Regulation by Taxation
The discretion of Congress in selecting the objectives of taxation has also been held at times to be subject to limitations implied from the nature of the Federal System. Apart from matters that Congress is authorized to regulate, the national taxing power, it has been said, "reaches only existing subjects." Congress may tax any activity actually carried on, such as the business of accepting wagers, regardless of whether it is permitted or prohibited by the laws of the United States or by those of a State. But so-called federal "licenses," so far as they relate to trade within state limits, merely express, "the purpose of the government not to interfere . . . with the trade nominally licensed, if the required taxes are paid." Whether the "licensed" trade shall be permitted at all is a question for decision by the State. This, nevertheless, does not signify that Congress may not often regulate to some extent a business within a State in order to tax it more effectively. Under the necessary-and-proper clause, Congress may do this very thing. Not only has the Court sustained regulations concerning the packaging of taxed articles such as tobacco and oleomargarine, ostensibly designed to prevent fraud in the collection of the tax, it has also upheld measures taxing drugs and firearms, which prescribed rigorous restrictions under which such articles could be sold or transferred, and imposed heavy penalties upon persons dealing with them in any other way. These regulations were sustained as conducive to the efficient collection of the tax though they clearly transcended in some respects this ground of justification.
Extermination by Taxation
A problem of a different order is presented where the tax itself has the effect of suppressing an activity or where it is coupled with regulations that clearly have no possible relation to the collection of the tax. Where a tax is imposed unconditionally, so that no other purpose appears on the face of the statute, the Court has refused to inquire into the motives of the lawmakers and has sustained the tax despite its prohibitive proportions. "It is beyond serious question that a tax does not cease to be valid merely because it regulates, discourages, or even definitely deters the activities taxed.... The principle applies even though the revenue obtained is obviously negligible . . . or the revenue purpose of the tax may be secondary.... Nor does a tax statute necessarily fall because it touches on activities which Congress might not otherwise regulate. As was pointed out in Magnano Co. v. Hamilton, 292 U.S. 40 , 47 (1934): 'From the beginning of our government, the courts have sustained taxes although imposed with the collateral intent of effecting ulterior ends which, considered apart, were beyond the constitutional power of the lawmakers to realize by legislation directly addressed to their accomplishments.'"
But where the tax is conditional, and may be avoided by compliance with regulations set out in the statute, the validity of the measure is determined by the power of Congress to regulate the subject matter. If the regulations are within the competence of Congress, apart from its power to tax, the exaction is sustained as an appropriate sanction for making them effective; otherwise it is invalid. During the Prohibition Era, Congress levied a heavy tax upon liquor dealers who operated in violation of state law. In United States v. Constantine, the Court held that this tax was unenforceable after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, since the National Government had no power to impose an additional penalty for infractions of state law.
Promotion of Business: Protective Tariff
The earliest examples of taxes levied with a view to promoting desired economic objectives in addition to raising revenue were, of course, import duties. The second statute adopted by the first Congress was a tariff act reciting that "it is necessary for the support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures, that duties be laid on goods, wares and merchandise imported." After being debated for nearly a century and a half, the constitutionality of protective tariffs was finally settled by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in J. W. Hampton & Co. v. United States, where Chief Justice Taft wrote: "The second objection to §315 is that the declared plan of Congress, either expressly or by clear implication, formulates its rule to guide the President and his advisory Tariff Commission as one directed to a tariff system of protection that will avoid damaging competition to the country's industries by the importation of goods from other countries at too low a rate to equalize foreign and domestic competition in the markets of the United States. It is contended that the only power of Congress in the levying of customs duties is to create revenue, and that it is unconstitutional to frame the customs duties with any other view than that of revenue raising."
The Chief Justice then observed that the first Congress in 1789 had enacted a protective tariff. "In this first Congress sat many members of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. This Court has repeatedly laid down the principle that a contemporaneous legislative exposition of the Constitution when the founders of our Government and framers of our Constitution were actively participating in public affairs, long acquiesced in, fixes the construction to be given its provisions.... The enactment and enforcement of a number of customs revenue laws drawn with a motive of maintaining a system of protection, since the revenue law of 1789, are matters of history. . . . Whatever we may think of the wisdom of a rotection policy, we cannot hold it unconstitutional. So long as the motive of Congress and the effect of its legislative action are to secure revenue for the benefit of the general government, the existence of other motives in the selection of the subject of taxes cannot invalidate Congressional action."
Spending for the General Welfare
Scope of the Power
The grant of power to "provide ... for the general welfare" raises a two-fold question: how may Congress provide for "the general welfare" and what is "the general welfare" that it is authorized to promote? The first half of this question was answered by Thomas Jefferson in his opinion on the Bank as follows: "[T]he laying of taxes is the power, and the general welfare the purpose for which the power is to be exercised. They [Congress] are not to lay taxes ad libitum for any purpose they please; but only to pay the debts or provide for the welfare of the Union. In like manner, they are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose." The clause, in short, is not an independent grant of power, but a qualification of the taxing power. Although a broader view has been occasionally asserted, Congress has not acted upon it and the Court has had no occasion to adjudicate the point.
With respect to the meaning of "the general welfare" the pages of The Federalist itself disclose a sharp divergence of views between its two principal authors. Hamilton adopted the literal, brod meaning of the clause; Madison contended that the powers of taxation and appropriation of the proposed government should be regarded as merely instrumental to its remaining powers, in other words, as little more than a power of self-support.
From an early date Congress has acted upon the interpretation espoused by Hamilton. Appropriations for subsidies and for an ever increasing variety of "internal improvements" constructed by the Federal Government, had their beginnings in the administrations of Washington and Jefferson. Since 1914, federal grants-in-aid, sums of money apportioned among the States for particular uses, often conditioned upon the duplication of the sums by the recipient State, and upon observance of stipulated restrictions as to its use, have become commonplace.
The scope of the national spending power was brought before the Supreme Court at least five times prior to 1936, but the Court disposed of four of the suits without construing the "general welfare" clause. In the Pacific Railway Cases and Smith v. Kansas City Title Co., it affirmed the power of Congress to construct internal improvements, and to charter and purchase the capital stock of federal land banks, by reference to its powers over commerce, post roads, and fiscal operations, and to its war powers. Decisions on the merits were withheld in two other cases, Massachusetts v. Mellon and Frothingham v. Mellon, on the ground that neither a State nor an individual citizen is entitled to a remedy in the courts against an alleged unconstitutional appropriation of national funds. In United States v. Gettysburg Electric Railway, however, the Court had invoked "the great power of taxation to be exercised for the common defence and general welfare" to sustain the right of the Federal Government to acquire land within a State for use as a national park.
Finally, in United States v. Butler, the Court gave its unqualified endorsement to Hamilton's views on the taxing power. Wrote Justice Roberts for the Court: "Since the foundation of the Nation sharp differences of opinion have persisted as to the true interpretation of the phrase. Madison asserted it amounted to no more than a reference to the other powers enumerated in the subsequent clauses of the same section; that, as the United States is a government of limited and enumerated powers, the grant of power to tax and spend for the general national welfare must be confined to the numerated legislative fields committed to the Congress. In this view the phrase is mere tautology, for taxation and appropriation are or may be necessary incidents of the exercise of any of the enumerated legislative powers. Hamilton, on the other hand, maintained the clause confers a power separate and distinct from those later enumerated, is not restricted in meaning by the grant of them, and Congress consequently has a substantive power to tax and to appropriate, limited only by the requirement that it shall be exercised to provide for the general welfare of the United States. Each contention has had the support of those whose views are entitled to weight. This court had noticed the question, but has never found it necessary to decide which is the true construction. Justice Story, in his Commentaries, espouses the Hamiltonian position. We shall not review the writings of public men and commentators or discuss the legislative practice. Study of all these leads us to conclude that the reading advocated by Justice Story is the correct one. While, therefore, the power to tax is not unlimited, its confines are set in the clause which confers it, and not in those of § 8 which bestow and define the legislative powers of the Congress. It results that the power of Congress to authorize expenditure of public moneys for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the Constitution."
By and large, it is for Congress to determine what constitutes the "general welfare." The Court accords great deference to Congress's decision that a spending program advances the general welfare, and has even questioned whether the restriction is judicially enforceable. Dispute, such as it is, turns on the conditioning of funds.
As with its other powers, Congress may enact legislation "necessary and proper" to effectuate its purposes in taxing and spending. In upholding a law making it a crime to bribe state and local officials who administer programs that receive federal funds, the Court declared that Congress has authority "to see to it that taxpayer dollars . . . are in fact spent for the general welfare, and not frittered away in graft or on projects undermined when funds are siphoned off or corrupt public officers are derelict about demanding value for dollars." Congress' failure to require proof of a direct connection between the bribery and the federal funds was permissible, the Court concluded, because "corruption does not have to be that limited to affect the federal interest. Money is fungible, bribed officials are untrustworthy stewards of federal funds, and corrupt contractors do not deliver dollar-fordollar value."
Social Security Act Cases.-Although holding that the spending power is not limited by the specific grants of power contained in Article I, § 8, the Court found, nevertheless, that it was qualified by the Tenth Amendment, and on this ground ruled in the Butler case that Congress could not use moneys raised by taxation to "purchase compliance" with regulations "of matters of State concern with respect to which Congress has no authority to interfere." Within little more than a year this decision was reduced to narrow proportions by Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, which sustained the tax imposed on employers to provide unemployment benefits, and the credit allowed for similar taxes paid to a State. To the argument that the tax and credit in combination were "weapons of coercion, destroying or impairing the autonomy of the States," the Court replied that relief of unemployment was a legitimate object of federal expenditure under the "general welfare" clause, that the Social Security Act represented a legitimate attempt to solve the problem by the cooperation of State and Federal Governments, that the credit allowed for state taxes bore a reasonable relation "to the fiscal need subserved by the tax in its normal operation," since state unemployment compensation payments would relieve the burden for direct relief borne by the national treasury. The Court reserved judgment as to the validity of a tax "if it is laid upon the condition that a State may escape its operation through the adoption of a statute unrelated in subject matter to activities fairly within the scope of national policy and power."
Conditional Grants-in-Aid.-It was not until 1947 that the right of Congress to impose conditions upon grants-in-aid over the objection of a State was squarely presented. The Court upheld Congress's power to do so in Oklahoma v. Civil Service Commission. The State objected to the enforcement of a provision of the Hatch Act that reduced its allotment of federal highway funds because of its failure to remove from office a member of the State Highway Commission found to have taken an active part in party politics while in office. The Court denied relief on the ground that, "[w]hile the United States is not concerned with, and has no power to regulate local political activities as such of State officials, it does have power to fix the terms upon which its money allotments to states shall be disbursed....
The end sought by Congress through the Hatch Act is better public service by requiring those who administer funds for national needs to abstain from active political partisanship. So even though the action taken by Congress does have effect upon certain activities within the State, it has never been thought that such effect made the federal act invalid."
The general principle is firmly established. "Congress has frequently employed the Spending Power to further broad policy objectives by conditioning receipt of federal moneys upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives. This Court has repeatedly upheld against constitutional challenge the use of this technique to induce governments and private parties to cooperate voluntarily with federal policy."
The Court has set forth several standards purporting to channel Congress's discretion in attaching grant conditions. To date no statutes have been struck down as violating these standards, although several statutes have been interpreted so as to conform to the guiding principles. First, the conditions, like the spending itself, must advance the general welfare, but the determination of what constitutes the general welfare rests largely if not wholly with Congress. Second, because a grant is "much in the nature of a contract" offer that the States may accept or reject, Congress must set out the conditions unambiguously, so that the States may make an informed decision. Third, the Court continues to state that the conditions must be related to the federal interest for which the funds are expended, but it has never found a spending condition deficient under this part of the test. Fourth, the power to condition funds may not be used to induce the States to engage in activities that would themselves be unconstitutional. Fifth, the Court has suggested that in some circumstances the financial inducement offered by Congress might be so coercive as to pass the point at which "pressure turns into compulsion," but again the Court has never found a congressional condition to be coercive in this sense. Certain federalism restraints on other federal powers seem not to be relevant to spending conditions.
If a State accepts federal funds on conditions and then fails to follow the requirements, the usual remedy is federal administrative action to terminate the funding and to recoup funds the State has already received. While the Court has allowed beneficiaries of conditional grant programs to sue to compel states to comply with the federal conditions, more recently the Court has required that any such susceptibility to suit be clearly spelled out so that states will be informed of potential consequences of accepting aid. Finally, it should be noted that Congress has enacted a range of laws forbidding discrimination in federal assistance programs, and some of these laws are enforceable against the states.
Earmarked Funds.-The appropriation of the proceeds of a tax to a specific use does not affect the validity of the exaction, if the general welfare is advanced and no other constitutional provision is violated. Thus a processing tax on coconut oil was sustained despite the fact that the tax collected upon oil of Philippine production was segregated and paid into the Philippine Treasury. In Helvering v. Davis, the excise tax on employers, the proceeds of which were not earmarked in any way, although intended to provide funds for payments to retired workers, was upheld under the "general welfare" clause, the Tenth Amendment being found to be inapplicable.
Debts of the United States.-The power to pay the debts of the United States is broad enough to include claims of citizens arising on obligations of right and justice. The Court sustained an act of Congress which set apart for the use of the Philippine Islands, the revenue from a processing tax on coconut oil of Philippine production, as being in pursuance of a moral obligation to protect and promote the welfare of the people of the Islands. Curiously enough, this power was first invoked to assist the United States to collect a debt due to it. In United States v. Fisher, the Supreme Court sustained a statute which gave the Federal Government priority in the distribution of the estates of its insolvent debtors. The debtor in that case was the endorser of a foreign bill of exchange that apparently had been purchased by the United States. Invoking the "necessary and proper" clause, Chief Justice Marshall deduced the power to collect a debt from the power to pay its obligations by the following reasoning: "The government is to pay the debt of the Union, and must be authorized to use the means which appear to itself most eligible to effect that object. It has, consequently, a right to make remittances by bills or otherwise, and to take those precautions which will render the transaction safe."
Clause 2. Borrowing Power
Clause 2. The Congress shall have Power *** To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.
The original draft of the Constitution reported to the convention by its Committee of Detail empowered Congress "To borrow money and emit bills on the credit of the United States." When this section was reached in the debates, Gouverneur Morris moved to strike out the clause "and emit bills on the credit of the United States." Madison suggested that it might be sufficient "to prohibit the making them a tender." After a spirited exchange of views on the subject of paper money, the convention voted, nine States to two, to delete the words "and emit bills." Nevertheless, in 1870, the Court relied in part upon this clause in holding that Congress had authority to issue treasury notes and to make them legal tender in satisfaction of antecedent debts.
When it borrows money "on the credit of the United States," Congress creates a binding obligation to pay the debt as stipulated and cannot thereafter vary the terms of its agreement. A law purporting to abrogate a clause in government bonds calling for payment in gold coin was held to contravene this clause, although the creditor was denied a remedy in the absence of a showing of actual damage.
Clause 3. Commerce Power
Clause 3. The Congress shall have Power *** To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.
Power to Regulate Commerce
Purposes Served by the Grant
This clause serves a two-fold purpose: it is the direct source of the most important powers that the Federal Government exercises in peacetime, and, except for the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is the most important limitation imposed by the Constitution on the exercise of state power. The latter, restrictive operation of the clause was long the more important one from the point of view of the constitutional lawyer. Of the approximately 1400 cases which reached the Supreme Court under the clause prior to 1900, the overwhelming proportion stemmed from state legislation. The result was that, generally, the guiding lines in construction of the clause were initially laid down in the context of curbing state power rather than in that of its operation as a source of national power. The consequence of this historical progression was that the word "commerce" came to dominate the clause while the word "regulate" remained in the background. The so-called "constitutional revolution" of the 1930s, however, brought the latter word to its present prominence.
Definition of Terms
Commerce.-The etymology of the word "commerce" carries the primary meaning of traffic, of transporting goods across state lines for sale. This possibly narrow constitutional conception was rejected by Chief Justice Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden, which remains one of the seminal cases dealing with the Constitution. The case arose because of a monopoly granted by the New York legislature on the operation of steam-propelled vessels on its waters, a monopoly challenged by Gibbons, who transported passengers from New Jersey to New York pursuant to privileges granted by an act of Congress. The New York monopoly was not in conflict with the congressional regulation of commerce, argued the monopolists, because the vessels carried only passengers between the two States and were thus not engaged in traffic, in "commerce" in the constitutional sense.
"The subject to be regulated is commerce," the Chief Justice wrote. "The counsel for the appellee would limit it to traffic, to buying and selling, or the interchange of commodities, and do not admit that it comprehends navigation. This would restrict a general term, applicable to many objects, to one of its significations. Commerce, undoubtedly, is traffic, but it is something more-it is intercourse." The term, therefore, included navigation, a conclusion that Marshall also supported by appeal to general understanding, to the prohibition in Article I, § 9, against any preference being given "by any regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State over those of another," and to the admitted and demonstrated power of Congress to impose embargoes.
Marshall qualified the word "intercourse" with the word "commercial," thus retaining the element of monetary transactions. But, today, "commerce" in the constitutional sense, and hence "interstate commerce," covers every species of movement of persons and things, whether for profit or not, across state lines, every species of communication, every species of transmission of intelligence, whether for commercial purposes or otherwise, every species of commercial negotiation which will involve sooner or later an act of transportation of persons or things, or the flow of services or power, across state lines.
There was a long period in the Court's history when a majority of the Justices, seeking to curb the regulatory powers of the Federal Government by various means, held that certain things were not encompassed by the commerce clause because they were either not interstate commerce or bore no sufficient nexus to interstate commerce. Thus, at one time, the Court held that mining or manufacturing, even when the product would move in interstate commerce, was not reachable under the commerce clause; it held insurance transactions carried on across state lines not commerce, and that exhibitions of baseball between professional teams that travel from State to State were not in commerce, and that similarly the commerce clause was not applicable to the making of contracts for the insertion of advertisements in periodicals in another State or to the making of contracts for personal services to be rendered in another State. Later decisions either have overturned or have undermined all of these holdings. The gathering of news by a press association and its transmission to client newspapers are interstate commerce. The activities of a Group Health Association, which serves only its own members, are "trade" and capable of becoming interstate commerce; the business of insurance when transacted between an insurer and an insured in different States is interstate commerce. But most important of all there was the development of, or more accurately the return to, the rationales by which manufacturing, mining, business transactions, and the like, which are antecedent to or subsequent to a move across state lines, are conceived to be part of an integrated commercial whole and therefore subject to the reach of the commerce power.
Among the Several States.-Continuing in Gibbons v. Ogden, Chief Justice Marshall observed that the phrase "among the several States" was "not one which would probably have been selected to indicate the completely interior traffic of a state." It must therefore have been selected to demark "the exclusively internal commerce of a state." While, of course, the phrase "may very properly be restricted to that commerce which concerns more states than one," it is obvious that "[c]ommerce among the states, cannot stop at the exterior boundary line of each state, but may be introduced into the interior." The Chief Justice then succinctly stated the rule, which, though restricted in some periods, continues to govern the interpretation of the clause. "The genius and character of the whole government seem to be, that its action is to be applied to all the external concerns of the nation, and to those internal concerns which affect the states generally; but not to those which are completely within a particular state, which do not affect other states, and with which it is not necessary to interfere, for the purpose of executing some of the general powers of the government."
Recognition of an "exclusively internal" commerce of a State, or "intrastate commerce" in today's terms, was at times regarded as setting out an area of state concern that Congress was precluded from reaching. While these cases seemingly visualized Congress' power arising only when there was an actual crossing of state boundaries, this view ignored Marshall's equation of "intrastate commerce" which "affect[s] other states" or "with which it is necessary to interfere" in order to effectuate congressional power with those actions which are "purely" interstate. This equation came back into its own, both with the Court's stress on the "current of commerce" bringing each element in the current within Congress' regulatory power, with the emphasis on the interrelationships of industrial production to interstate commerce but especially with the emphasis that even minor transactions have an effect on interstate commerce and that the cumulative effect of many minor transactions with no separate effect on interstate commerce, when they are viewed as a class, may be sufficient to merit congressional regulation. "Commerce among the states must, of necessity, be commerce with[in] the states.... The power of congress, then, whatever it may be, must be exercised within the territorial jurisdiction of the several states."
Regulate.-"We are now arrived at the inquiry-" continued the Chief Justice, "What is this power? It is the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the constitution . . . If, as has always been understood, the sovereignty of congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, is vested in congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the constitution of the United States."
Of course, the power to regulate commerce is the power to prescribe conditions and rules for the carrying-on of commercial transactions, the keeping-free of channels of commerce, the regulating of prices and terms of sale. Even if the clause granted only this power, the scope would be wide, but it extends to include many more purposes than these. "Congress can certainly regulate interstate commerce to the extent of forbidding and punishing the use of such commerce as an agency to promote immorality, dishonesty, or the spread of any evil or harm to the people of other states from the state of origin. In doing this, it is merely exercising the police power, for the benefit of the public, within the field of interstate commerce." Thus, in upholding a federal statute prohibiting the shipment in interstate commerce of goods made with child labor, not because the goods were intrinsically harmful but in order to extirpate child labor, the Court said: "It is no objection to the assertion of the power to regulate commerce that its exercise is attended by the same incidents which attend the exercise of the police power of the states."
The power has been exercised to enforce majority conceptions of morality, to ban racial discrimination in public accommodations, and to protect the public against evils both natural and contrived by people. The power to regulate interstate commerce is, therefore, rightly regarded as the most potent grant of authority in § 8.
Necessary and Proper Clause.-All grants of power to Congress in § 8, as elsewhere, must be read in conjunction with the final clause, cl. 18, of § 8, which authorizes Congress "[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers." It will be recalled that Chief Justice Marshall alluded to the power thus enhanced by this clause when he said that the regulatory power did not extend "to those internal concerns [of a state] . . . with which it is not necessary to interfere, for the purpose of executing some of the general powers of the government." There are numerous cases permitting Congress to reach "purely" intrastate activities on the theory, combined with the previously mentioned emphasis on the cumulative effect of minor transactions, that it is necessary to regulate them in order that the regulation of interstate activities might be fully effectuated.
Federalism Limits on Exercise of Commerce Power.-As is recounted below, prior to reconsideration of the federal commerce power in the 1930s, the Court in effect followed a doctrine of "dual federalism," under which Congress' power to regulate much activity depended on whether it had a "direct" rather than an "indirect" effect on interstate commerce. When the restrictive interpretation was swept away during and after the New Deal, the question of federalism limits respecting congressional regulation of private activities became moot. However, the States did in a number of instances engage in commercial activities that would be regulated by federal legislation if the enterprise were privately owned; the Court easily sustained application of federal law to these state proprietary activities. However, as Congress began to extend regulation to state governmental activities, the judicial response was inconsistent and wavering. While the Court may shift again to constrain federal power on federalism grounds, at the present time the rule is that Congress lacks authority under the commerce clause to regulate the States as States in some circumstances, when the federal statutory provisions reach only the States and do not bring the States under laws of general applicability.
That Congress' protective power over interstate commerce reaches all kinds of obstructions and impediments was made clear in United States v. Ferger. The defendants had been indicted for issuing a false bill of lading to cover a fictitious shipment in interstate commerce. Before the Court they argued that inasmuch as there could be no commerce in a fraudulent bill of lading, Congress had no power to exercise criminal jurisdiction over them. Said Chief Justice White: "But this mistakenly assumes that the power of Congress is to be necessarily tested by the intrinsic existence of commerce in the particular subject dealt with, instead of by the relation of that subject to commerce and its effect upon it. We say mistakenly assumes, because we think it clear that if the proposition were sustained it would destroy the power of Congress to regulate, as obviously that power, if it is to exist, must include the authority to deal with obstructions to interstate commerce . . . and with a host of other acts which, because of their relation to and influence upon interstate commerce, come within the power of Congress to regulate, although they are not interstate commerce in and of themselves." Much of Congress' criminal legislation is based simply on the crossing of a state line as creating federal jurisdiction.
Interstate Versus Foreign Commerce
There are certain dicta urging or suggesting that Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce restrictively is less than its analogous power over foreign commerce, the argument being that whereas the latter is a branch of the Nation's unlimited power over foreign relations, the former was conferred upon the National Government primarily in order to protect freedom of commerce from state interference. The four dissenting Justices in the Lottery Case endorsed this view in the following words: "The power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and the power to regulate interstate commerce, are to be taken diverso intuitu, for the latter was intended to secure equality and freedom in commercial intercourse as between the States, not to permit the creation of impediments to such intercourse; while the former clothed Congress with that power over international commerce, pertaining to a sovereign nation in its intercourse with foreign nations, and subject, generally speaking, to no implied or reserved power in the States. The laws which would be necessary and proper in the one case would not be necessary or proper in the other."
And twelve years later Chief Justice White, speaking for the Court, expressed the same view, as follows: "In the argument reference is made to decisions of this court dealing with the subject of the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but the very postulate upon which the authority of Congress to absolutely prohibit foreign importations as expounded by the decisions of this court rests is the broad distinction which exists between the two powers and therefore the cases cited and many more which might be cited announcing the principles which they uphold have obviously no relation to the question in hand."
But dicta to the contrary are much more numerous and span a far longer period of time. Thus Chief Justice Taney wrote in 1847: "The power to regulate commerce among the several States is granted to Congress in the same clause, and by the same words, as the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and is co-extensive with it." And nearly fifty years later, Justice Field, speaking for the Court, said: "The power to regulate commerce among the several States was granted to Congress in terms as absolute as is the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations." Today it is firmly established doctrine that the power to regulate commerce, whether with foreign nations or among the several States, comprises the power to restrain or prohibit it at all times for the welfare of the public, provided only that the specific limitations imposed upon Congress' powers, as by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, are not transgressed.
The Radio Act of 1927 whereby "all forms of interstate and foreign radio transmissions within the United States, its Territories and possessions" were brought under national control, affords another illustration. Because of the doctrine thus stated, the measure met no serious constitutional challenge either on the floors of Congress or in the Courts.
Congressional Regulation of Waterways
Navigation.-In Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., the Court granted an injunction requiring that a bridge erected over the Ohio River under a charter from the State of Virginia either be altered so as to admit of free navigation of the river or else be entirely abated. The decision was justified on the basis both of the commerce clause and of a compact between Virginia and Kentucky, whereby both these States had agreed to keep the Ohio River "free and common to the citizens of the United States." The injunction was promptly rendered inoperative by an act of Congress declaring the bridge to be "a lawful structure" and requiring all vessels navigating the Ohio to be so regulated as not to interfere with it. This act the Court sustained as within Congress' power under the commerce clause, saying: "So far . . . as this bridge created an obstruction to the free navigation of the river, in view of the previous acts of Congress, they are to be regarded as modified by this subsequent legislation; and, although it still may be an obstruction in fact, [it] is not so in the contemplation of law.... [Congress] having in the exercise of this power, regulated the navigation consistent with its preservation and continuation, the authority to maintain it would seem to be complete. That authority combines the concurrent powers of both governments, State and federal, which, if not sufficient, certainly none can be found in our system of government." In short, it is Congress, and not the Court, which is authorized by the Constitution to regulate commerce.
The law and doctrine of the earlier cases with respect to the fostering and protection of navigation are well summed up in a frequently cited passage from the Court's opinion in Gilman v. Philadelphia. "Commerce includes navigation. The power to regulate commerce comprehends the control for that purpose, and to the extent necessary, of all the navigable waters of the United States which are accessible from a State other than those in which they lie. For this purpose they are the public property of the nation, and subject to all requisite legislation by Congress. This necessarily includes the power to keep them open and free from any obstruction to their navigation, interposed by the States or otherwise; to remove such obstructions when they exist; and to provide, by such sanctions as they may deem proper, against the occurrence of the evil and for the punishment of offenders. For these purposes, Congress possesses all the powers which existed in the States before the adoption of the national Constitution, and which have always existed in the Parliament in England."
Thus, Congress was within its powers in vesting the Secretary of War with power to determine whether a structure of any nature in or over a navigable stream is an obstruction to navigation and to order its abatement if he so finds. Nor is the United States required to compensate the owners of such structures for their loss, since they were always subject to the servitude represented by Congress' powers over commerce, and the same is true of the property of riparian owners that is damaged. And while it was formerly held that lands adjoining nonnavigable streams were not subject to the above mentioned servitude, this rule has been impaired by recent decisions; and at any rate it would not apply as to a stream rendered navigable by improvements.
In exercising its power to foster and protect navigation, Congress legislates primarily on things external to the act of navigation. But that act itself and the instruments by which it is accomplished are also subject to Congress' power if and when they enter into or form a part of "commerce among the several States." When does this happen? Words quoted above from the Court's opinion in the Gilman case answered this question to some extent; but the decisive answer to it was returned five years later in the case of The Daniel Ball. Here the question at issue was whether an act of Congress, passed in 1838 and amended in 1852, which required that steam vessels engaged in transporting passengers or merchandise upon the "bays, lakes, rivers, or other navigable waters of the United States," applied to the case of a vessel that navigated only the waters of the Grand River, a stream lying entirely in the State of Michigan. The Court ruled: "In this case it is admitted that the steamer was engaged in shipping and transporting down Grand River, goods destined and marked for other States than Michigan, and in receiving and transporting up the river goods brought within the State from without its limits; ... So far as she was employed in transporting goods destined for other States, or goods brought from without the limits of Michigan and destined to places within that State, she was engaged in commerce between the States, and however limited that commerce may have been, she was, so far as it went, subject to the legislation of Congress. She was employed as an instrument of that commerce; for whenever a commodity has begun to move as an article of trade from one State to another, commerce in that commodity between the States has commenced."
Counsel had suggested that if the vessel was in commerce because it was part of a stream of commerce then all transportation within a State was commerce. Turning to this point, the Court added: "We answer that the present case relates to transportation on the navigable waters of the United States, and we are not called upon to express an opinion upon the power of Congress over interstate commerce when carried on by land transportation. And we answer further, that we are unable to draw any clear and distinct line between the authority of Congress to regulate an agency employed in commerce between the States, when the agency extends through two or more States, and when it is confined in its action entirely within the limits of a single State. If its authority does not extend to an agency in such commerce, when that agency is confined within the limits of a State, its entire authority over interstate commerce may be defeated. Several agencies combining, each taking up the commodity transported at the boundary line at one end of a State, and leaving it at the boundary line at the other end, the federal jurisdiction would be entirely ousted, and the constitutional provision would become a dead letter." In short, it was admitted, inferentially, that the principle of the decision would apply to land transportation, but the actual demonstration of the fact still awaited some years.
Hydroelectric Power; Flood Control.-As a consequence, in part, of its power to forbid or remove obstructions to navigation in the navigable waters of the United States, Congress has acquired the right to develop hydroelectric power and the ancillary right to sell it to all takers. By a long-standing doctrine of constitutional law, the States possess dominion over the beds of all navigable streams within their borders, but because of the servitude that Congress' power to regulate commerce imposes upon such streams, the States, without the assent of Congress, practically are unable to utilize their prerogative for power development purposes. Sensing no doubt that controlling power to this end must be attributed to some government in the United States and that "in such matters there can be no divided empire," the Court held in United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Co., that in constructing works for the improvement of the navigability of a stream, Congress was entitled, as part of a general plan, to authorize the lease or sale of such excess water power as might result from the conservation of the flow of the stream. "If the primary purpose is legitimate," it said, "we can see no sound objection to leasing any excess of power over the needs of the Government. The practice is not unusual in respect to similar public works constructed by State governments."
Since the Chandler-Dunbar case, the Court has come, in effect, to hold that it will sustain any act of Congress which purports to be for the improvement of navigation whatever other purposes it may also embody, nor does the stream involved have to be one "navigable in its natural state." Such, at least, seems to be the sum of its holdings in Arizona v. California, and United States v. Appalachian Power Co. In the former, the Court, speaking through Justice Brandeis, said that it was not free to inquire into the motives "which induced members of Congress to enact the Boulder Canyon Project Act," adding: "As the river is navigable and the means which the Act provides are not unrelated to the control of navigation . . . the erection and maintenance of such dam and reservoir are clearly within the powers conferred upon Congress. Whether the particular structures proposed are reasonably necessary, is not for this Court to determine.... And the fact that purposes other than navigation will also be served could not invalidate the exercise of the authority conferred, even if those other purposes would not alone have justified an exercise of congressional power."
And in the Appalachian Power case, the Court, abandoning previous holdings laying down the doctrine that to be subject to Congress' power to regulate commerce a stream must be "navigable in fact," said: "A waterway, otherwise suitable for navigation, is not barred from that classification merely because artificial aids must make the highway suitable for use before commercial navigation may be undertaken," provided there must be a "balance between cost and need at a time when the improvement would be useful.... Nor is it necessary that the improvements should be actually completed or even authorized. The power of Congress over commerce is not to be hampered because of the necessity for reasonable improvements to make an interstate waterway available for traffic.... Nor is it necessary for navigability that the use should be continuous.... Even absence of use over long periods of years, because of changed conditions, . . . does not affect the navigability of rivers in the constitutional sense."
Furthermore, the Court defined the purposes for which Congress may regulate navigation in the broadest terms. "It cannot properly be said that the constitutional power of the United States over its waters is limited to control for navigation.... That authority is as broad as the needs of commerce.... Flood protection, watershed development, recovery of the cost of improvements through utilization of power are likewise parts of commerce control." These views the Court has since reiterated. Nor is it by virtue of Congress' power over navigation alone that the National Government may develop water power. Its war powers and powers of expenditure in furtherance of the common defense and the general welfare supplement its powers over commerce in this respect.
Congressional Regulation of Land Transportation
Federal Stimulation of Land Transportation.-The settlement of the interior of the country led Congress to seek to facilitate access by first encouraging the construction of highways. In successive acts, it authorized construction of the Cumberland and the National Road from the Potomac across the Alleghenies to the Ohio, reserving certain public lands and revenues from land sales for construction of public roads to new States granted statehood. Acquisition and settlement of California stimulated interest in railway lines to the west, but it was not until the Civil War that Congress voted aid in the construction of a line from the Missouri River to the Pacific; four years later, it chartered the Union Pacific Company.
The litigation growing out of these and subsequent activities settled several propositions. First, Congress may provide highways and railways for interstate transportation; second, it may charter private corporations for that purpose; third, it may vest such corporations with the power of eminent domain in the States; and fourth, it may exempt their franchises from state taxation.
Federal Regulation of Land Transportation.-Congressional regulation of railroads may be said to have begun in 1866. By the Garfield Act, Congress authorized all railroad companies operating by steam to interconnect with each other "so as to form continuous lines for the transportation of passengers, freight, troops, governmental supplies, and mails, to their destination." An act of the same year provided federal chartering and protection from conflicting state regulations to companies formed to construct and operate telegraph lines. Another act regulated the transportation by railroad of livestock so as to preserve the health and safety of the animals.
Congress' entry into the rate regulation field was preceded by state attempts to curb the abuses of the rail lines in the Middle West, which culminated in the "Granger Movement." Because the businesses were locally owned, the Court at first upheld state laws as not constituting a burden on interstate commerce; but after the various business panics of the 1870s and 1880s drove numerous small companies into bankruptcy and led to consolidation, there emerged great interstate systems. Thus in 1886, the Court held that a State may not set charges for carriage even within its own boundaries of goods brought from without the State or destined to points outside it; that power was exclusively with Congress. In the following year, Congress passed the original Interstate Commerce Act. A Commission was authorized to pass upon the "reasonableness" of all rates by railroads for the transportation of goods or persons in interstate commerce and to order the discontinuance of all charges found to be "unreasonable." The Commission's basic authority was upheld in ICC v. Brimson, in which the Court upheld the validity of the Act as a means "necessary and proper" for the enforcement of the regulatory commerce power and in which it also sustained the Commission's power to go to court to secure compliance with its orders. Later decisions circumscribed somewhat the ICC's power.
Expansion of the Commission's authority came in the Hepburn Act of 1906 and the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910. By the former, the Commission was explicitly empowered, after a full hearing on a complaint, "to determine and prescribe just and reasonable" maximum rates; by the latter, it was authorized to set rates on its own initiative and empowered to suspend any increase in rates by a carrier until it reviewed the change. At the same time, the Commission's jurisdiction was extended to telegraphs, telephones, and cables. By the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, the ICC was authorized to regulate the transportation of persons and property by motor vehicle common carriers.
The modern powers of the Commission were largely defined by the Transportation Acts of 1920 and 1940. The jurisdiction of the Commission covers not only the characteristics of the rail, motor, and water carriers in commerce among the States but also the issuance of securities by them and all consolidations of existing companies or lines. Further, the Commission was charged with regulating so as to foster and promote the meeting of the transportation needs of the country. Thus, from a regulatory exercise originally begun as a method of restraint there has emerged a policy of encouraging a consistent national transportation policy.
Federal Regulation of Intrastate Rates (The Shreveport Doctrine).-Although its statutory jurisdiction did not apply to intrastate rate systems, the Commission early asserted the right to pass on rates, which, though in effect on intrastate lines, gave these lines competitive advantages over interstate lines the rates of which the Commission had set. This power the Supreme Court upheld in a case involving a line operating wholly intrastate in Texas but which paralleled within Texas an interstate line operating between Louisiana and Texas; the Texas rate body had fixed the rates of the intrastate line substantially lower than the rate fixed by the ICC on the interstate line. "Wherever the interstate and intrastate transactions of carriers are so related that the government of the one involves the control of the other, it is Congress, and not the State, that is entitled to prescribe the final and dominant rule, for otherwise Congress would be denied the exercise of its constitutional authority and the States and not the Nation, would be supreme in the national field."
The same holding was applied in a subsequent case in which the Court upheld the Commission's action in annulling intrastate passenger rates it found to be unduly low in comparison with the rates the Commission had established for interstate travel, thus tending to thwart, in deference to a local interest, the general purpose of the act to maintain an efficient transportation service for the benefit of the country at large.
Federal Protection of Labor in Interstate Rail Transportation.-Federal entry into the field of protective labor legislation and the protection of organization efforts of workers began in connection with the railroads. The Safety Appliance Act of 1893, applying only to cars and locomotives engaged in moving interstate traffic, was amended in 1903 so as to embrace much of the intrastate rail systems on which there was any connection with interstate commerce. The Court sustained this extension in language much like that it would use in the Shreveport case three years later. These laws were followed by the Hours of Service Act of 1907, which prescribed maximum hours of employment for rail workers in interstate or foreign commerce. The Court sustained the regulation as a reasonable means of protecting workers and the public from the hazards which could develop from long, tiring hours of labor.
Most far-reaching of these regulatory measures were the Federal Employers Liability Acts of 1906 and 1908. These laws were intended to modify the common-law rules with regard to the liability of employers for injuries suffered by their employees in the course of their employment and under which employers were generally not liable. Rejecting the argument that regulation of such relationships between employers and employees was a reserved state power, the Court adopted the argument of the United States that Congress was empowered to do anything it might deem appropriate to save interstate commerce from interruption or burdening. Inasmuch as the labor of employees was necessary for the function of commerce, Congress could certainly act to ameliorate conditions that made labor less efficient, less economical, and less reliable. Assurance of compensation for injuries growing out of negligence in the course of employment was such a permissible regulation.
Legislation and litigation dealing with the organizational rights of rail employees are dealt with elsewhere.
Regulation of Other Agents of Carriage and Communications.-In 1914, the Court affirmed the power of Congress to regulate the transportation of oil and gas in pipelines from one State to another and held that this power applied to the transportation even though the oil or gas was the property of the lines. Subsequently, the Court struck down state regulation of rates of electric current generated within that State and sold to a distributor in another State as a burden on interstate commerce. Proceeding on the assumption that the ruling meant the Federal Government had the power, Congress in the Federal Power Act of 1935 conferred on the Federal Power Commission authority to regulate the wholesale distribution of electricity in interstate commerce and three years later vested the FPC with like authority over natural gas moving in interstate commerce. Thereafter, the Court sustained the power of the Commission to set the prices at which gas originating in one State and transported into another should be sold to distributors wholesale in the latter State. "The sale of natural gas originating in the State and its transportation and delivery to distributors in any other State constitutes interstate commerce, which is subject to regulation by Congress ... The authority of Congress to regulate the prices of commodities in interstate commerce is at least as great under the Fifth Amendment as is that of the States under the Fourteenth to regulate the prices of commodities in intrastate commerce."
Colorado-Wyoming Co. v. FPC, 324 U.S. 626 (1945). See also Illinois Gas Co. v. Public Service Co., 314 U.S. 498 (1942); FPC v. East Ohio Gas Co., 338 U. S. 464 (1950). In Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Wisconsin, 347 U.S. 672 (1954), the Court ruled that an independent company engaged in one State in production, gathering, and processing of natural gas, which it thereafter sells in the same State to pipelines that transport and sell the gas in other States is subject to FPC jurisdiction. See also California v. Lo-Vaca Gathering Co., 379 U.S. 366 (1965). Other acts regulating commerce and communication originating in this period have evoked no basic constitutional challenge. These include the Federal Communications Act of 1934, providing for the regulation of interstate and foreign communication by wire and radio, and the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, providing for the regulation of all phases of airborne commerce, foreign and interstate.
Congressional Regulation of Commerce as Traffic
The Sherman Act: Sugar Trust Case.-Congress' chief effort to regulate commerce in the primary sense of "traffic" is embodied in the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the opening section of which declares "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise," or "conspiracy in restraint of trade and commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations" to be "illegal," while the second section makes it a misdemeanor for anybody to "monopolize or attempt to monopolize any part of such commerce." The act was passed to curb the growing tendency to form industrial combinations, and the first case to reach the Court under it was the famous Sugar Trust Case, United States v. E. C. Knight Co. Here the Government asked for the cancellation of certain agreements, whereby the American Sugar Refining Company, had "acquired," it was conceded, "nearly complete control of the manufacture of refined sugar in the United States."
The question of the validity of the Act was not expressly discussed by the Court but was subordinated to that of its proper construction. The Court, in pursuance of doctrines of constitutional law then dominant with it, turned the Act from its intended purpose and destroyed its effectiveness for several years, as that of the Interstate Commerce Act was being contemporaneously impaired. The following passage early in Chief Justice Fuller's opinion for the Court sets forth the conception of the federal system that controlled the decision: "It is vital that the independence of the commercial power and of the police power, and the delimination between them, however sometimes perplexing, should always be recognized and observed, for while the one furnishes the strongest bond of union, the other is essential to the preservation of the autonomy of the States as required by our dual form of government; and acknowledged evils, however grave and urgent they may appear to be, had better be borne, than the risk be run, in the effort to suppress them, of more serious consequences by resort to expedients of even doubtful constitutionality."
In short, what was needed, the Court felt, was a hard and fast line between the two spheres of power, and in a series of propositions it endeavored to lay down such a line: (1) production is always local, and under the exclusive domain of the States; (2) commerce among the States does not begin until goods "commence their final movement from their State of origin to that of their destination;" (3) the sale of a product is merely an incident of its production and, while capable of "bringing the operation of commerce into play," affects it only incidentally; (4) such restraint as would reach commerce, as above defined, in consequence of combinations to control production "in all its forms," would be "indirect, however inevitable and whatever its extent," and as such beyond the purview of the Act. Applying the above reasoning to the case before it, the Court proceeded: "The object [of the combination] was manifestly private gain in the manufacture of the commodity, but not through the control of interstate or foreign commerce. It is true that the bill alleged that the products of these refineries were sold and distributed among the several States, and that all the companies were engaged in trade or commerce with the several States and with foreign nations; but this was no more than to say that trade and commerce served manufacture to fulfill its function."
"Sugar was refined for sale, and sales were probably made at Philadelphia for consumption, and undoubtedly for resale by the first purchasers throughout Pennsylvania and other States, and refined sugar was also forwarded by the companies to other States for sale. Nevertheless it does not follow that an attempt to monopolize, or the actual monopoly of, the manufacture was an attempt, whether executory or consummated, to monopolize commerce, even though, in order to dispose of the product, the instrumentality of commerce was necessarily invoked. There was nothing in the proofs to indicate any intention to put a restraint upon trade or commerce, and the fact, as we have seen that trade or commerce might be indirectly affected was not enough to entitle complainants to a decree."
Sherman Act Revived.-Four years later came the case of Addyston Pipe and Steel Co. v. United States, in which the Antitrust Act was successfully applied as against an industrial combination for the first time. The agreements in the case, the parties to which were manufacturing concerns, effected a division of territory among them, and so involved, it was held, a "direct" restraint on the distribution and hence of the transportation of the products of the contracting firms. The holding, however, did not question the doctrine of the earlier case, which in fact continued substantially undisturbed until 1905, when Swift & Co. v. United States, was decided.
In Mandeville Island Farms v. American Crystal Sugar Co., 334 U.S. 219 , 229 - 239 (1948), Justice Rutledge, for the Court, critically reviewed the jurisprudence of the limitations on the Act and and the deconstruction of the judicial constraints. In recent years, the Court's decisions have permitted the reach of the Sherman Act to expand along with the expanding notions of congressional power. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Copp Paving Co., 419 U.S. 186 (1974); Hospital Building Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738 (1976); McLain v. Real Estate Bd. of New Orleans, 444 U.S. 232 (1980); Summit Health, Ltd. v. Pinhas, 500 U.S. 322 (1991). The Court, however, does insist that plaintiffs alleging that an intrastate activity violates the Act prove the relationship to interstate commerce set forth in the Act. Gulf Oil Corp, 419 U.S. at 194-199.
The "Current of Commerce" Concept: The Swift Case.- Defendants in Swift were some thirty firms engaged in Chicago and other cities in the business of buying livestock in their stock-yards, in converting it at their packing houses into fresh meat, and in the sale and shipment of such fresh meat to purchasers in other States. The charge against them was that they had entered into a combination to refrain from bidding against each other in the local markets, to fix the prices at which they would sell, to restrict shipments of meat, and to do other forbidden acts. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court on defendants' contention that certain of the acts complained of were not acts of interstate commerce and so did not fall within a valid reading of the Sherman Act. The Court, however, sustained the Government on the ground that the "scheme as a whole" came within the act, and that the local activities alleged were simply part and parcel of this general scheme.
Referring to the purchase of livestock at the stockyards, the Court, speaking by Justice Holmes, said: "Commerce among the States is not a technical legal conception, but a practical one, drawn from the course of business. When cattle are sent for sale from a place in one State, with the expectation that they will end their transit, after purchase, in another, and when in effect they do so, with only the interruption necessary to find a purchaser at the stockyards, and when this is a typical, constantly recurring course, the current thus existing is a current of commerce among the States, and the purchase of the cattle is a part and incident of such commerce." Likewise the sales alleged of fresh meat at the slaughtering places fell within the general design. Even if they imported a technical passing of title at the slaughtering places, they also imported that the sales were to persons in other States, and that shipments to such States were part of the transaction. Thus, sales of the type that in the Sugar Trust case were thrust to one side as immaterial from the point of view of the law, because they enabled the manufacturer "to fulfill its function," were here treated as merged in an interstate commerce stream.
Thus, the concept of commerce as trade, that is, as traffic, again entered the constitutional law picture, with the result that conditions directly affecting interstate trade could not be dismissed on the ground that they affected interstate commerce, in the sense of interstate transportation, only "indirectly." Lastly, the Court added these significant words: "But we do not mean to imply that the rule which marks the point at which State taxation or regulation becomes permissible necessarily is beyond the scope of interference by Congress in cases where such interference is deemed necessary for the protection of commerce among the States." That is to say, the line that confines state power from one side does not always confine national power from the other. Even though the line accurately divides the subject matter of the complementary spheres, national power is always entitled to take on the additional extension that is requisite to guarantee its effective exercise and is furthermore supreme.
The Danbury Hatters Case.-In this respect, the Swift case only states what the Shreveport case was later to declare more explicitly, and the same may be said of an ensuing series of cases in which combinations of employees engaged in such intrastate activities as manufacturing, mining, building, construction, and the distribution of poultry were subjected to the penalties of the Sherman Act because of the effect or intended effect of their activities on interstate commerce.
Stockyards and Grain Futures Acts.-In 1921 Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act whereby the business of commission men and livestock dealers in the chief stockyards of the country was brought under national supervision, and in the year following it passed the Grain Futures Act whereby exchanges dealing in grain futures were subjected to control. The decisions of the Court sustaining these measures both built directly upon the Swift case.
In Stafford v. Wallace, which involved the former act, Chief Justice Taft, speaking for the Court, said: "The object to be secured by the act is the free and unburdened flow of livestock from the ranges and farms of the West and Southwest through the great stockyards and slaughtering centers on the borders of that region, and thence in the form of meat products to the consuming cities of the country in the Middle West and East, or, still as livestock, to the feeding places and fattening farms in the Middle West or East for further preparation for the market." The stockyards, therefore, were "not a place of rest or final destination." They were "but a throat through which the current flows," and the sales there were not merely local transactions. "They do not stop the flow;-but, on the contrary" are "indispensable to its continuity."
In Chicago Board of Trade v. Olsen, involving the Grain Futures Act, the same course of reasoning was repeated. Speaking of the