Gibbons v. Ogden

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Gibbons v. Ogden
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 5, 1824
Decided March 2, 1824
Full case name Thomas Gibbons, Appellant v. Aaron Ogden, Respondent
Citations 22 U.S. 1 (more)
22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1; 16 L. Ed. 23; 1824 U.S. LEXIS 370
Prior history Appeal from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New York
Holding
The New York law was found invalid because the Commerce Clause of the Constitution designated power to Congress to regulate interstate commerce and that the broad definition of commerce included navigation.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Marshall, joined by Washington, Todd, Duvall, Story
Concurrence Johnson
Thompson took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I sec. 8 clause 3

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824),[1] was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.[2] The case was argued by some of America's most admired and capable attorneys at the time. Exiled Irish patriot Thomas Addis Emmet and Thomas J. Oakley argued for Ogden, while William Wirt and Daniel Webster argued for Gibbons.

Background[edit]

In 1808[3] the Legislature of the State of New York granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton exclusive navigation privileges of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of twenty years. They subsequently also petitioned other states and territorial legislatures for similar monopolies, hoping to develop a national network of steamboat lines, but only the Orleans Territory accepted their petition and awarded them a monopoly on the lower Mississippi.[4]

Aware of the potential of the new steamboat navigation, competitors challenged Livingston and Fulton by arguing that the commerce power of the federal government was exclusive and superseded state laws. Legal challenges followed, and in response, the monopoly attempted to undercut its rivals by selling them franchises or buying their boats. Former New Jersey Gov. Aaron Ogden had tried to defy the monopoly, but ultimately purchased a license from the Livingston and Fulton assignees in 1815, and entered business with Thomas Gibbons from Georgia. The partnership collapsed three years later, however, when Gibbons operated another steamboat on Ogden’s route between Elizabethtown and New York City, that had been licensed by the United States Congress under a 1793 law regulating the coasting trade.[5] The partners ended up in the New York Court of Errors, which granted a permanent injunction against Gibbons in 1820.[4] In the interim Gibbons also had taken on Cornelius Vanderbilt as his ferry captain, and later, his business manager.[6][7]

Case[edit]

Aaron Ogden filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery of New York asking the court to restrain Thomas Gibbons from operating on these waters. Ogden's lawyer contended that states often passed laws on issues regarding interstate matters and that states should have fully concurrent power with Congress on matters concerning interstate commerce.

Gibbons' lawyer, Daniel Webster, argued that Congress had exclusive national power over interstate commerce according to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and that to argue otherwise would result in confusing and contradicting local regulatory policies. The Court of Chancery of New York and the Court of Errors of New York found in favor of Ogden and issued an injunction to restrict Gibbons from operating his boats.

Gibbons appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing as he did in New York that the monopoly conflicted with federal law. After several delays, the court began discussing the meaning of the commerce clause in 1824, which by that time had become an issue of wider interest. Congress was debating a bill to provide a federal survey of roads and canals.[3] Southerners, in particular, were growing more sensitive to what the resolution of these issues would mean to them as sectional disputes, especially over slavery, were increasing.[4]

Decision of the U.S. Supreme Court[edit]

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons. The sole argued source of Congress's power to promulgate the law at issue was the Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the Court had to answer whether the law regulated "commerce" that was "among the several states." With respect to "commerce," the Court held that commerce is more than mere traffic—that it is the trade of commodities—it is also intercourse. This broader definition includes navigation. The Court interpreted "among" as "intermingled with."

"If, as has always been understood, the sovereignty of Congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations and among the several states is vested in Congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the Constitution of the United States."

The part of the ruling which stated that any license granted under the federal Coasting act of 1793 takes precedence over any similar license granted by a state is also in the spirit of the Supremacy Clause, although the Court did not specifically cite this clause.

Importance of the case[edit]

Steven Redd argues that the decision in Gibbons v. Ogden survived until 1895, when the court began to limit the congressional power with the case of United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 1 (1895).[citation needed] This marked the start of a 40-year period of history during which the Supreme Court limited the federal government's ability to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause. During the 1930s the Supreme Court changed course again and began to grant more federal authority under Commerce Clause, going beyond even the authority recognized in Gibbons v. Odgen. The Court went so far as to say that even activity entirely within one state could be regulated by the federal government if the activity had an effect on interstate commerce. See National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 US 1 (1937).

However, Strict Constructionists (those who believe that the Constitution must be given the narrowest possible construction) hold a different view of the meaning of Commerce Clause as established in Gibbons that it was limited in scope because the decision could be interpreted to say that navigation only pertained to the federal Commerce Clause because it was necessary to business as it allowed for the interstate transportation of goods. Therefore, under this theory the E.C Knight decision may be viewed not as a radical departure, but as a continuation of the original jurisprudence.

Note that in Gibbons v. Ogden the court specifically stated there are limits upon the federal commerce power, but chose not to put into detail what those limits were aside from goods specifically made, moved, and sold within one state were exclusively beyond the reach of the federal commerce power. This part of the Gibbons ruling stands in direct contrast to the post-New Deal decision in Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942).

Opinion excerpts[edit]

  • The power to “regulate Commerce” is:
the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution.
  • In interpreting the power of Congress as to commerce “among the several states”:
The word “among” means intermingled with. A thing which is among others, is intermingled with them. Commerce among the States, cannot stop at the external boundary line of each State, but may be introduced into the interior….Comprehensive as the word “among” is, it may very properly be restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one.
  • Defining how far the power of Congress extends:
The power of Congress, then, comprehends navigation, within the limits of every State in the Union; so far as that navigation may be, in any manner, connected with “commerce with foreign nations, or among the several States.”

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ GIBBONS v. OGDEN, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) 22 U.S. 1 (Wheat.) Full text of the opinion courtesy of Findlaw.com.
  2. ^ John Steele Gordon "10 Moments That Made American Business," American Heritage, February/March 2007.
  3. ^ a b Todd Shallat, Water and Bureaucracy: Origins of the Federal Responsibility for Water Resources, 1787-1838, pp 13-15, Natural Resources Journal 32 (Winter 1992)
  4. ^ a b c David P. Billington, Donald C. Jackson, Martin V. Melosi, The History of Large Federal Dams: Planning, Design, and Construction in the Era of Big Dams, pp 13-14, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, Colorado, 2005
  5. ^ Chap.VIII—An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same., A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875, Statutes at Large, 2nd Congress, 2nd Session. Library of Congress
  6. ^ http://www.continuingeducationnj.com/PDFs/Staten%20Island%20NJLTA2.pdf
  7. ^ Stiles, T.J. (undated), "Cornelius Vanderbilt", The New York Times, retrieved 2011-07-16, "Perhaps the greatest turning point in his life came on November 24, 1817, when he agreed to serve as ferry captain for Thomas Gibbons of New Jersey. Gibbons’s vessel (which ran between New Jersey and New York) was a steamboat, which gave Vanderbilt an education in this new technology. More important, Vanderbilt assisted Gibbons in a battle against a legal monopoly on steamboats in New York waters that had been granted to the patrician Livingston family. Gibbons’s lawsuit against the monopoly, Gibbons v. Ogden, was finally decided in his favor by the United States Supreme Court on March 2, 1824. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the monopoly had no force against interstate shipping; states, he declared, could not interfere with interstate commerce. The decision overturned lower court precedent to guarantee freedom of trade within the nation’s borders. It allowed Gibbons's ferry to operate unhindered, and cleared the way for Vanderbilt's own future in transportation." 

Further reading[edit]

  • Herbert A. Johnson. "Gibbons v. Ogden": John Marshall, Steamboats, and the Commerce Clause (University Press of Kansas; 2010) 198 pages
  • Thomas H. Cox. Gibbons v. Ogden, Law, and Society in the Early Republic (Ohio University Press, 2009) 264 pages
  • Thomas H. Cox. “Contesting Commerce: Gibbons v. Ogden, Steam Power, and Social Change,” in Journal of Supreme Court History 34 (March 2008), 55-73.

External links[edit]