Friday, December 3, 2010

Congress regulating "Interstate Commerce"

So one of the few powers actually granted to the Congress of the United States, was the ability to regulate interstate commerce.

The U.S. Constitutuion (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) states that "The Congress shall have power... To regulate Commerce with Foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

The "among the several States" part is what I am discussing today.

Basically, Congress has, with the approval of the Supreme Court over the past century, expanded "interstate commerce" to apply to virtually every aspect of American life. How? Let's go back to a 1942 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Wickard V Filburn.

Roscoe Filburn was a grain farmer, who also raised chickens. In 1938, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which set limits on the production of grain for American farmers. The intent, was to stabilize grain prices domestically and abroad. Filburn's allowed production for 1941, was 11 acres of grain, at about 20 bushels.

He produced his limit and put it on the market. The issue arose, when he actually planted 23 acres and harvested 239 bushels. The excess, he argued, was for personal use to feed his chickens, and not for commerce, let alone interstate commerce.

The case made it to the Supreme Court and in 1942, the Court ruled in favor of Claude Wickard, then Secretary of Agriculture. The Court's ruling essentially maintained that Filburn, by growing wheat above and beyond his quota, for personal consumption, would then not need to purchase wheat on the market like a good consumer, which as an individual, and would have little impact on the market as a whole. However, if EVERY farmer grew their own wheat as well as what they sold, the market would see a measurable impact, defeating the purpose of the quotas and regulation imposed, and thus, the ability of Congress to regulate the market would be impaired.

This single case, more than any other, is why Congress can regulate almost anything you can imagine. It is why we now have a multi-trillion dollar health care bill shoved down our throats.

In Montana, they tried to test the waters, by passing the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, signed into law by their Governor, Brian Schweitzer in 2009. The law essentially challenged the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to regulate firearms under federal law (covered by the interstate commerce clause).

The wording of the law essentially states that guns built, sold, and kept in Montana, are subject to state regulation and not federal. The BATFE of course, disagreed, and sent a letter to all Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders in the state, telling them that due to a conflict in Montana and Federal laws, the federal law supercedes state law. Here is a link (adobe required) to that letter:

The intent was to force a legal confrontation, which could then be forced into courts, up to the Supreme Court if necessary, to challenge and limit the expansiveness of Federal powers and the abuses and over-extension of Congressional powers using the Interstate Commerce Clause. Several agencies in Montana filed suit in Federal District Court on October 1st, 2009. I guess we'll see where it goes.

I guess some States feel that big brother has gotten to big, and a 70 year old Supreme Court ruling may be outdated, or flat out wrong.

All that to say, it's Christmas time, and there are big screen TV's, video game consoles, jewelry, computers, and all sorts of other gadgets that make us good consumers, that are just waiting to be bought. Remember though, when you buy, or don't buy, whichever the case may be, think about how you are playing your part in interstate commerce, and how broad reaching the implications are, of your purchase. You might just find out someday, that Congress requires you to spend your money instead of save it... like a good consumer.

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