Teh Commerz Clawz: Gibbons v. Ogden

Yeah, I lose. This did not go up yesterday. I plead feverishness and too much lemon honey tea.

i tell. you listen nao

Zophie tells it like it is, yo!

Welcome to the first official installment of Teh Commerz Clawz, where I explain, incrementally, the cases that form the precedent for the current challenge to HR 3962 Affordable Health Care for America Act, and then explain the decision that allows the states to continue challenging the bill. In super simple language. Possibly in LOLspeak as well. Because it sounds like fun.


So to begin:

As many as you might know, when the Constitution was established, teh Statez haz probs. Lotz an lotz. The Articles of Confederation weren’t doing a whole lot. For example, every state could trade with every other state, but also every other country. They could print their own monies. No one was there to force them to pay debts to each other or the people. Obviously, not so good.

Courtesy of icanhazcheezburger.com

But when the founders got together to draft Teh Conztitushun, they didn’t want to have the same problems they had back in England. So they had to make sure there was a balance between state power and federal power. They decided they would give the national government the power to make money, draft treaties with other countries, and to regulate “Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

This allowed the national government enough control to make sure that there wasn’t a lot of division and that people got paid on time, and also allowed the states enough power so the national government didn’t do this:

kitty squishing mouse

I crusch statez wit mah mightie nashunal governmentz pawz! Courtesy of Discover Magazine

In the very beginning, the national government gave most Commerz Clawz powers to the states, including allowing states to effectively create monopolies by granting limited amounts of licenses or entering into agreements with private individuals for control of various roads and waterways, etc.


gibbons v. ogden

Gibbons v. Ogden

Enter Gibbon v. Ogden, which was the first Commerz Clawz case and thus super, super important:

In 1798, dude named Livingston gets a monopoly from the state of New York to operate steamboats.
Livingston: I can haz mon0poly?
State Legislature: Okie! You haz no funcshuning steamboat anywayz.

However, by 1813, Livingston was dead, but the steamboats were up and running quite well. So was the monopoly. Other states like New Joysey were getting super pissed, and Livingston’s successors, Ogden and Gibbons, were making tons and tons of money. Ogden had the NY monopoly on his side, and Gibbons had permission from the federal government to run his boats along the coast. But then Gibbons and Ogden broke up.

New York Monopoly Holders: U must end teh partnership wit Gibbons. Him iz stupid. Moar money!
Ogden:  Okie. MOAR MONEY!
Ogden to NY Courts: Makes him stop! Iz mah watr. U said so!
NY Courts: Gibbons! No NY watr 4 u! We gived it 2 Ogden. U no can haz watr.

Gibbons was obviously very mad about this. The federal government had already said that he could operate his boats all along the coast. That should include New York, no matter the stupid monopoly. So he took his case to the US Supreme Court.

Gibbons: Federal government haz power over watr. New York no can haz power. Watr is important, and is a nashunal issue. Watr not just 4 statez.
Ogden: This iz a state power 2! Regulashun of navigashun waz not granted to Congrez! 10th Amendment rulez over u! Besides, iz not commerz, iz trade instead! U cannot regulate trade! Only statez can!

In case you couldn’t tell, the relevant part of the Commerz Clawz is “among the several States.” But what is “Commerce?” What does “Among” mean? Supreme Court Kitteh will explain.

Supreme Court Kitteh knows all! (Oldest LOLcat in recorded history)

SC Kitteh: “So, we haz some very important questions to answer today. First, what is commerz? Gibbons says it iz only buying and selling of tings. We disagree. Commerz iz trafficking of goods, but it is also “intercourse.” Not like sex, u nazty ppl. NO! It iz “the commercial intercourse between nations, and parts of nations, in all its branches.” So obviously, navigashun is part of the intercourse of commerz. Gibbonz is wrong. Get it? No? Let us explain moar.

“Second, “among means intermingled with…Commerce does not stop at the external boundary lines of each State.” So, if you buy a steamboat ticket 4 a ride frum New York 2 Florida, cuz FL iz warm and NY iz 2 cold 4 whiney u, then even though that commerz started in New York, it iz interstate commerz because the end result is interstate commerz. Ok?

“Third, “can a State regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the States, while Congress is regulating it?” Yes. No probs. We kno statez can haz laws 2. But…

“Fourth, if a law frum teh Statez conflicts wit a federal law, Teh Conztitushun says that the federal law wins. Hands down. No argument.”

So to recap: Commerce is more than buying and selling things. Interstate commerce can reach inside a state. States can regulate shizz too, but only if it doesn’t interfere with federal laws.

New York’s monopoly goes against Gibbon’s federal permit, so according to points three and four, the state law loses. Monopoly over! Gibbons can haz water 2! Yay!

These definitions become really important later on. Think about it. What counts as part of interstate commerce? What is only inside a state and so is “intrastate” commerce? Can the states regulate foreign commerce too? What if a state regulation expands on a federal regulation and so they’re kinda together and kinda not?

All this and more will be shown in later installments!

And that, ladies and gents, is Teh Commerz Clawz: Gibbons v. Ogden. If you want a fairly simple version without lolspeak check out this nice brief at oyez.com.


One thought on “Teh Commerz Clawz: Gibbons v. Ogden

  1. Pingback: Teh Commerz Clawz: US V. E.C. Knight « What Policy Dorks Do for Fun

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