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Congressional Power and the Commerce Clause


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First of two-part lecture on Congressional power given to students of the University of Muenster foreign law program.

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Congressional Power and the Commerce Clause

  1. 1. U.S. Constitutional Law Legislative Powers: The Commerce Clause
  2. 2. Congress <ul><li>Two Houses </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Senate – 100 members, two from each state, six-year terms (staggered). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Filibuster & Cloture </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Confirms Executive and Judicial appointments </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>House – 435 members, number per state depends on population, two-year terms. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Power of the purse </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Removal by 2/3 vote </li></ul><ul><li>Censure (punishment) by majority vote. </li></ul>
  3. 3. House of Representatives
  4. 4. Lawmakers <ul><li>Legislative Branch = lawmakers </li></ul><ul><li>But they do much more: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Administrative powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Taxing & Spending powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Supervisory powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Establishment powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>War powers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Regulatory powers </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Taxing Power <ul><li>Under Articles of Confederation, Congress had no taxing power. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical difference between direct v. indirect and revenue raising v. regulatory, but not today. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Although, it's unlikely that a direct tax on property would be constitutional. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As long as there is some connection to revenue raising, tax will be allowed. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Spending Power <ul><li>Congress has broad powers to spend to advance “general welfare.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Congress may spend in any way it believes will serve general welfare so long as it does not violate another constitutional provision. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can use spending power to regulate </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Definitions <ul><li>Interstate – crossing state borders </li></ul><ul><li>Intrastate – activity within state borders </li></ul><ul><li>Federalism - A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units. </li></ul><ul><li>Sherman Anti-Trust Act – outlaws monopolies, encourages competition. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Commerce Clause <ul><li>Art I, § 8: “The Congress shall have the power . . . [t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes . . . .” </li></ul><ul><li>What's really at issue here? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Federal v. State powers </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Key questions are: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What is “interstate” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is “commerce” </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. What is Interstate <ul><li>“among the several states” = Interstate </li></ul><ul><li>concerning more than one state </li></ul><ul><li>Generally, Congress may regulate when commerce has interstate effects, even if the commerce occurs within a single state. </li></ul>
  10. 10. What is Commerce <ul><li>Definition has changed over the years: </li></ul><ul><li>Original definition – commerce includes all phases of business, including navigation (Gibbons v. Ogden) </li></ul><ul><li>1887-1937 – only the end phase of business (that actual exchange of goods). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Does not include production, manufacturing, mining, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>1937-1995 – Congress could regulate any activity if there was a substantial effect on interstate commerce. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>expressly rejecting exclusion of production process </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.
  12. 12. Questions <ul><li>What are some of the key characteristics of the Heart of Atlanta Motel? </li></ul><ul><li>Why did the motel get sued? </li></ul><ul><li>What arguments does the motel raise as a defense? </li></ul><ul><li>What does public accommodations mean? </li></ul><ul><li>The Court struck down civil rights laws in the late 1800s. Why is this earlier case deemed not to be precedent by the Court? </li></ul><ul><li>Why does the court reject defendant's claim that is only involved in local commerce? </li></ul>
  13. 13. Other Examples <ul><li>National Labor Relations Act </li></ul><ul><ul><li>fair employment practices, collective bargaining, create board to enforce labor laws. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Fair Labor Standards Act </li></ul><ul><li>Agricultural Quotas, even for self use! </li></ul><ul><li>Regulation of surface mining </li></ul><ul><li>Application of civil rights laws to local restaurant </li></ul>
  14. 14. United States v. Lopez
  15. 15. Questions <ul><li>What federal law is being challenged in this case? </li></ul><ul><li>What does Chief Justice Rehnquist say are the three areas that modern Commerce Clause cases have allowed Congress to regulate? </li></ul><ul><li>Which one of these three areas of regulation are at issue in Lopez? </li></ul><ul><li>Why does Rehnquist say that Lopez is different than the far reaching case of Wickard? </li></ul><ul><li>How does the Government claim that the federal law does substantially affect interstate commerce? </li></ul>
  16. 16. Questions Continued <ul><li>Why does Rehnquist reject the Government's position? </li></ul><ul><li>Why does Justice Kennedy think the law falls outside of the Commerce Clause power? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Post-Lopez <ul><li>Congress has the power to regulate only </li></ul><ul><ul><li>the channels of commerce, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the instrumentalities of commerce, and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>action that substantially affects interstate commerce </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Violence Against Women Act (U.S. v. Morrison) </li></ul>
  18. 18. Gonzalez v. Raich (2005)