Commerce and the Court:
How and Why to Define the Commerce Issue
Commerce has been part of our nation since we founded it. To every farmer, commerce was important so that the food they grew would not spoil on waiting for transport. However, as the nation grew, our definition of commerce has changed many times. Debates over whether Congress had powers to control commerce sparked further debate on if the Courts had the right to define commerce. Every debated, including this one, has two sides that need to be explored.
I believe that the Court has a major role in government. The Courts are obliged to interpret the Constitution and to clarify laws and acts that seem to be in conflict with the Constitution. This is the primary objective of the Court system. To say that the Court has overstepped its authority in defining commerce would be to take the purpose of the Court from the Court. Also, to say that the Court has met its obligation and should now stay out is to say that the framers ideal of checks and balances has worked and is no longer needed in this matter. But my question is how can it be done if the Constitution is a living document that is always changing and never static. In my opinion, the mere fact that these debates over the interpretation of what commerce means and how it is defined is the very reason the Court system was incorporated into our government. This is why the debate seems a bit lopsided in my opinion.
As far as the topic at hand, it was clear that when states and the national government began to clash over the interpretation of commerce, it was time for the Court to step in. Without a clear definition of what commerce was, as well as what it meant by inter and intra state commerce, neither side of the controversy would never be settled. The first test of a definition came in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. Chief Justice Marshall defined commerce not only as traffic, but also as intercourse. After that he said that the powers to regulate is thus vested in Congress to set the ground rules. This ruling started all kinds of controversy.
Other cases have come up to question this same ideal. In Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, the Court ruled that congress had delegated its commerce power improperly, and by doing such cased problems with interstate commerce. This made an impact on the commerce issue by stating that by delegating powers with no limits to what the other party could do was in direct violation with the powers vested to Congress.
Another case that made the headlines was that of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States. This case questioned the point at which interstate commerce ended and where intrastate commerce began. At issue was a poultry slaughterhouse that received chickens from various sources out of state but did all their respective dealings within the state of New York. Also at issue were the NIRA's demands on labor...