Congressional Power Under the Commerce Clause
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 in its view of the range of state action. In 1876, for example, 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. This led to such great confusion that ten years later the Court, in the history-making Wabash case ( Wabash Railway Co. v. Illinois, 118 U.S. 557: 1886), was obliged to repudiate 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 very just and equitable. . . . But when it is attempted to apply to transportation through an entire series of states a principle of this kind, and each one of the states shall attempt to establish its own rates of transportation . . . the deleterious influence upon the freedom of commerce among the states . . . cannot be overestimated." The Court concluded by suggesting that since the subject was of "national character" any regulation "should be done by the Congress of the United States under the commerce clause of the Constitution." The upshot was the enactment in the next year of the Interstate Commerce Act -- the first major effort by Congress to use the commerce power to achieve regulatory purpose.
The enactment three years later of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act showed that the Congress was determined to use its power over interstate commerce to accomplish purposes far beyond anything hitherto attempted. The business community strenuously resisted this bold national effort to control American industrial and commercial life, finding useful constitu-