Among the powers granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the
U.S. Constitution is the power to regulate interstate commerce. Over
time, legislators, lawyers, politicians, and business people have argued
over just what the commerce power means. For instance, it may be clear
that the commerce power would give Congress the ability to make laws
regarding transportation networks, such as train lines and highways,
that cross state lines. However, would the commerce power give Congress
the ability to establish regulations on the production of goods and services that will eventually
cross state lines? These and other questions regarding the commerce
power have been answered by numerous cases heard by the Supreme Court of
the United States (see activity titled "How Interpretation of the
Commerce Power Has Changed Over Time"). However, the question of what
the Commerce Clause entitles Congress to do and legislate on is still a
very open question.
Since the mid-1930s, Congress and the Supreme Court of the United
States have tended to view the commerce power rather expansively. In
other words, the commerce power is used to justify a wide range of
powers and legislation, some of which have only a marginal link to
interstate commerce. For an idea of how Congress views the link between
its lawmaking and commerce, you can go to the THOMAS Legislative Information section of
the Library of Congress web site. If you search for legislation by
typing in the word "commerce" you can find what bills have somehow been
linked to commerce. Some of them might surprise you!
The link below contains a brief list of bills that the 107th Congress was
considering in the first half of 2001 that have some connection to
commerce. After reading the description of each bill, have students discuss or make a
note of the connection that legislation may have to interstate commerce.
Then have them rate that connection on a scale of one to five, one being a weak
connection to interstate commerce and five being a strong connection to
interstate commerce. They can compare their ratings to those of other students.
What Does that Law Have to Do with Interstate Commerce?