Commerce clause

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The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

Why it matters: The Commerce Clause has historically been viewed as both a grant of congressional authority and as a restriction on the regulatory authority of the States. Congress has often used the Commerce Clause to justify exercising legislative power over the activities of states and their citizens. The Commerce Clause has been broadly interpreted to allow the regulation of an increasingly integrated national economy where local activity affects interstate commercial activity. The Commerce Clause has been used to regulate immigration and interstate commerce, prohibit racial discrimination, establish federal law enforcement, break up monopolies, regulate labor standards, and support the Affordable Care Act.

The Constitution does not explicitly define the word “commerce” leading to wide debate as to what powers section 8, Clause 3 grants congress. Some argue that it refers simply to trade or exchange, while others claim that the framers of the Constitution intended to describe more broadly commercial and social intercourse between citizens of different states. This ambiguity has led to significant and ongoing controversy regarding the balance of power between the federal government and the states.


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