GOVERNING UNDER THE COMMERCE POWER
UNTIL 1890 THE SUPREME Court was concerned with the commerce clause primarily as it limited state action affecting interstate commerce. By and large, the Court was generous as to the range of state action. In a leading case of 1876, the Justices held that the states -- in the absence of legislation by Congress -- could regulate railroad and other rates for interstate as well as for intrastate shipments. The resulting confusion was so great that ten years later the Court ( Wabash Railway Co. v. Illinois, 118 U.S. 557, 1886) repudiated its former view as ill-considered.
The Illinois act under consideration in the Wabash case had been applied as a corrective of long- and short-haul rate discriminations on shipments originating in Illinois and terminating in New York City. "As restricted to a transportation which begins and ends within the limits of the state," the Court said, "it may be