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The Commerce Clause

15 January, 2016 - 09:29


  1. Name the specific clause through which Congress has the power to regulate commerce. What, specifically, does this clause say?
  2. Explain how early decisions of the Supreme Court interpreted the scope of the commerce clause and how that impacted the legislative proposals and programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
  3. Describe both the wider use of the commerce clause from World War II through the 1990s and the limitations the Supreme Court imposed in Lopezand other cases.

First, turn to Article I, Section 8. The commerce clause gives Congress the exclusive power to make laws relating to foreign trade and commerce and to commerce among the various states. Most of the federally created legal environment springs from this one clause: if Congress is not authorized in the Constitution to make certain laws, then it acts unconstitutionally and its actions may be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Lately, the Supreme Court has not been shy about ruling acts of Congress unconstitutional.

Here are the first five parts of Article I, Section 8, which sets forth the powers of the federal legislature. The commerce clause is in boldface. It is short, but most federal legislation affecting business depends on this very clause: