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Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1

Supreme Court of the United States






Federalism At Work




Doctrinal Fundementals  Federalism and Judicial Review

Quick Notes

A ferry boat operator (Gibbons) was given an exclusive license by the State of New York to run a ferry from New York City to New Jersey.  His competitor (Ogden) was licensed as a vessel in the coasting trade under a statute enacted by Congress.  The ferry boat operator filed suit when a competing boat began to operate a similar service in the same waters.

Book Name

Constitutional Law : Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, Tushnet.  ISBN:  978-0-7355-7719-0



o         Whether States regulate interstate commerce?  No, but they can regulate internal only commerce and regulations derived from Congress.

o         Whether the Government can regulate interstate commerce?  Yes, Article I, Section 8.




o         The Chancellor perpetuated the injunction, being of the opinion, that the said acts were not repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, and were valid.


o         Reversed


o         The New York monopoly was therefore invalid under the supremacy clause, and the injunction was accordingly dissolved.




Key Phrases


Pl Gibbons

Df Ogden

Party Description

New York Statute

o         New York's legislature passed a statute giving Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston the exclusive right to operate steamboats in New York waters.

Granted License to Ogden

o         Fulton and Livingston then gave Ogden (Pl - a license to operate a ferry between New York City and Elizabethtown Point, New Jersey.  (Interstate Commerce, Act I, Section 8)

Gibbons Competitor, License by Congress

o         Gibbons (Df), a competing ferry operator, was given a similar license by Congress in 1793, and in acting on the license he entered into New York waters, thereby violating Ogden's (Pl - license.

Ogden Seeks Injunction

o         Ogden (Pl - sought an injunction in the New York courts prohibiting Gibbons' (Df - from providing competing service.

Injunction Granted

o         The injunction was granted an Gibbons (Df - appealed .

Justice Marshall


The subject is Commerce


Ogden Arg

o         Wanted to limit the word commerce to buying and selling.

o         He does not believe commerce means navigation.



Courts Response

o         Commerce is traffic but it is something more:  It is intercourse.


Commercial Intercourse

o         It describes the commercially intercourse between nations, and parts of nations, in all its branches, and is regulated by prescribing rules for carrying on that intercourse.


Americans Understanding

o         All Americans understand the word commerce to comprehend navigation which was adopted by the government.


Power Over Commerce

o         The power over commerce includes navigation.

o         This was one of the objects adopted by the American government.

o         The subject to which the power is applied is to commerce "among the several States."


Commerce Intermingled & External Boundary

o         Commerce is intermingled among the States.

o         Cannot stop at external States boundary lines.


Among the several States (Art. I, Sect. 8)

o         The language "among the several States" does not include that commerce which is completely internal.

o         Comprehensive as the word "among" is, it may very properly be restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one.

o         Among is not a word that indicates interior traffic of a State.


Completely Internal, Reserved for the State itself

o         Regulation of the completely internal commerce of a State, then, may be considered as reserved for the State itself.


Congresss Power to regulate

o         If Congress has the power to regulate it, that power must be exercised when it exists.

o         Congress must exercise within the territorial jurisdiction of the several States.


Court - What is Commerce Power?

o         It is the power to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed.

o         This power is complete in itself, may be exercised to the utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution.


Plenary to Interstate Commerce

o         If the sovereignty of Congress is plenary [unlimited] as to those objects, the power over commerce 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 of the exercise of power as are found in the Constitution of the United States.


Ogden Argues No Plenary

o         That state laws requiring the inspection of cargo show that Congress' power to regulate commerce is not exclusively in Congress (i.e., not plenary).

o         Inspection laws may have a remote and considerable influence on commerce


Court Regulation is derived

o         The power that States have to regulate commerce is derive from the constitution in which Congress has the plenary power.


Inspection, Quarantine, Health laws -- Components of the mass

o         Inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws of every description, as well as laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, &c., are component parts of this mass.


No direct general power is granted to Congress

o         No direct general power over these objects is granted to Congress.

o         They remain subject to State legislation.


When Congress can reach objects (Inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws)

o         If the legislative power of the Union can reach them,

o    it must be for national purposes;

o    it must be where the power is expressly given for a special purpose, or

o    is clearly incidental to some power which is expressly given.


Public Policy

o         We do not want to take away Congresss power of commerce, because it would

o    Perplex understanding

o    Obscure principals that were thought quite plain

o    Induce doubts


Courts Holding

o         The New York monopoly was therefore invalid under the supremacy clause, and the injunction was accordingly dissolved.




o         The commerce power, like all others vested in Congress, is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution.


Article I, Section 8

o         To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes


Class Notes