Certiorari granted by the United States Supreme Court on November 14, 2011 Oral arguments scheduled for March 28, 2011
- The Parties
- The Questions Presented
- Case Background
- The Law
- Justice Voting History
- The Arguments
- Oral Arguments
- The Court's Opinion
- Blog Topics
|Petitioner: The United States Department of Health and Human Services||
Florida, other states, and private plaintiffs
FantasyCast about the Commerce Clause and our Constitution:
At the District Court
Opinion of the Court of Appeals
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)McCulloch is widely recognized as one of the greatest opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall and remains the primary case for understanding Congress’s Necessary and Proper power. In 1816, Congress charted the Second Bank of the United States. Although Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress 17 enumerated powers, none of those powers includes the authority to charter a bank. Nonetheless, Chief Justice Marshall upheld the constitutionality of the Bank as an exercise of Congress’s Necessary and Proper power. Marshall rejected a very narrow interpretation of “necessary and proper” and instead interpreted the clause to allow Congress to pass laws that are rationally related to enumerated powers. In one of the most famous holdings in constitutional law, Marshall wrote: “[l]et the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional."
Gibbons v. Ogden -(1824)In this important Commerce Clause case, the Court held that Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce” is a power “complete in itself, [which] may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution.” Gibbons is also important for Chief Justice Marshall’s recognition that, while the Constitution only gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce--that is, commercebetween States--”Commerce among the States, cannot stop at the external boundary line of each State, but may be introduced into the interior.” In other words, Congress may regulate at least some activity that occurs within a state as a part of its regulation of activity between states. [caption id="attachment_1685" align="alignright" width="199"] Farmer Roscoe Filburn, the respondent in Wickard v. Filburn[/caption]
Wickard v. Filburn (1942)The facts of Wickard are simple: farmer Roscoe Filburn violated the New Deal-era Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, which limited the amount of wheat Filburn could grow. Filburn planted more wheat than he was allowed to, because he wanted to use the extra wheat to feed himself, his family, and his animals. Filburn argued that because the extra wheat remained on his farm, and never crossed state lines, Congress could not control it under its power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, however, stating that, by choosing to grow his own wheat, Farmer Filburn was thus not buying wheat on the open market. And although the amount of wheat which Farmer Filburn might otherwise purchase would be minimal by itself, when taken in the aggregate--that is, if every wheat farmer grew excess wheat for his personal consumption--there would be a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce. Thus, although Farmer Filburn’s activities were purely intrastate (within one state instead of among multiple states), Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to prohibit Farmer Filburn from producing excess wheat for his own use.
United States v. Lopez (1995)Lopez was the first Supreme Court decision since the 1930’s to invalidate a law of Congress on the grounds that it exceeded Congress’s Commerce Clause power. Congress passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act which prohibited possession of a gun within a school zone. Alfonso Lopez, a high school senior, carried a gun and ammunition into his school for the stated purpose of selling it to another student. Lopez was charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zone Act. However, Lopez argued that the Act was beyond Congress’s power--his gun never crossed any state lines. Congress defended the law as an exercise of its Commerce Clause power by arguing that possession of a gun within a school zone created a dangerous learning environment, which, in turn, raised insurance costs, limited individuals’ willingness to travel within school zones, and ultimately disrupted education, the effects of which would be felt by the national economy. The Court held that the government’s arguments “piled inference upon inference” in order to make an economic effect out of an otherwise non-economic activity. The government’s reasoning, the Court noted, would leave little beyond the reach of Congress. The Court held that Congress’s Commerce Clause power allowed Congress to regulate three areas: 1) Congress may regulate the channels of interstate commerce (e.g., the roadways on which commerce occurs); 2) Congress may regulate the instrumentalities of commerce (e.g., the items actually traded in interstate commerce); and 3) Congress may regulate those activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce (e.g., the Court’s holding in Wickard v. Filburn).
United States v. Morrison (2000)Morrison was the second in a series of Supreme Court opinions clarifying and limiting the scope of the Commerce Clause. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which, among other things, provided victims of gender-motivated violence the right to sue their attackers in federal court. Congress defended VAWA in a manner similar to the Gun-Free School Zone in Lopez, by demonstrating the economic effects of gender-motivated violence. The Court, however, found that VAWA was unconstitutional on Commerce Clause grounds because the effects on interstate commerce were too weak and indirect. According to the majority, such a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause as VAWA would “obliterate the Constitution’s distinction between national and local authority.” The majority expressed concern that by using the Commerce Clause to regulate a matter traditionally left to the states, such as basic criminal law, would “blur” the boundaries between state and federal authority.
Gonzales v. Raich (2005)Gonzalez marks a slight departure from the Court’s opinions inLopez and Morrison by upholding an act of federal authority over a Commerce Clause challenge. California law allows the production and consumption of marijuana for medical purposes. However, under federal law medicinal marijuana is illegal. Angel Raich, who suffered from cancer, grew marijuana for her own medical use, and was charged with violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. Raich challenge Congress could criminalize her own intrastate production and consumption of marijuana for an otherwise-legal purpose that never crossed state lines. The Court rejected this challenge, holding that the issue in Raich was little different from that in Wickard. Although Raich, like Farmer Filburn 63 years earlier, produced a product solely for personal use, Congress could reasonably determine that the purely intrastate production of marijuana would have a substantial effect on the interstate market for marijuana. In other words, Raich’s production of marijuana for her own personal use undermined federal efforts to completely ban the drug. Justice Scalia concurred on different grounds than the majority. Although Justice Scalia voted to limit federal Commerce Clause power in Lopez andMorrison, in Gonzalez Justice Scalia stated that the the Necessary and Proper Clause gave Congress the power to ban purely intrastate production and consumption of marijuana because allowing such activities would “undercut” Congress’s otherwise constitutional attempts at curtailing the national market for marijuana.
United States v. Comstock (2010)Comstock is the Court’s most recent statement on the meaning of the Necessary and Proper Clause and its most recent opinion of the breadth of federal power. Federal law allows the Attorney General to certify that federal inmates are “sexually dangerous persons.” Once an inmate is so designated, the government may keep the inmate in civil commitment beyond the duration of their prison sentence. The Court issued a 7-2 opinion in which it held that the civil commitment of dangerous prisoners is a “necessary and proper” law related to Congress’s otherwise-valid laws banning child pornography and passing criminal laws to enforce them. Although the Court gave numerous reasons for finding that the law at issue here was “necessary and proper”, the Court held that the Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress broad powers to enact laws which are “rationally related” or “reasonably adapted” to Congress’s enumerated powers such as the Commerce Clause. In other words, if Congress has a reasonable belief that a law is necessary and proper to enforce one of its other enumerated powers, then Congress may enact the first law.
U.S. v. Lopez (1995)
U.S. v. Morrison (2000)
|Gonzales v. Raich (2005)||
U.S. v. Comstock (2010)
|Roberts||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Expand|
|Alito||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Expand|
|Sotomayor||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Expand|
|Kagan||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court||Not yet on Court|
|Expand||Interpreted the Commerce Clause/Necessary and Proper Clause to grant the federal government more power|
|Limit||Interpreted the Commerce Clause/Necessary and Proper Clause to lessen the federal government’s power|
|Not yet on Court||The Justice was not yet on the Court when the case was decided.|
The United States Dept. of Health and Human Services (Petitioner)
Florida, states, and private plaintiffs (Respondent)
Write the Opinion - U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services v. Florida (200 Points)
Friend of the Court - Amicus Brief Badge (150 points)
Scope of the Commerce Clause- Federalism Badge (50 points)
The Supreme Court and Popular Opinion- Separation of Powers Badge (50 points)
- Docket information at the Supreme Court: This page will be updated as more briefs are filed.
- Historical Research about the Commerce Clause courtesy of ConSource.