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Gibbons v. Ogden

Citation. 22 U.S. 1, 9 Wheat. 1, 6 L. Ed. 23 (1824)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The State of New York had issued an exclusive license to operate steamboats in New York waters to Fulton and Livingston. Their licensee and the Plaintiff – Respondent, Ogden (Plaintiff), sued the Defendant – Appellant, Gibbons (Defendant), for operating a competing ferry service.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The commerce power is a broad regulatory power.


New York issued an exclusive steamboat license to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston, who licensed Plaintiff to operate a ferry service between New York City and Elizabethtown Port, New Jersey. When Defendant began operating a competing ferry service, Plaintiff sued. Defendant argued that because his ferry was licensed under federal law as “vessels in the coasting trade,” he had the right to operate his ferry, as well.


Is the scope of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause narrow in scope?


No. Reversed and remanded.
Plaintiff argued that Congressional power under the Commerce Clause is limited to traffic: buying and selling, interchange of goods, but not to navigation.
However, were Congress unable to regulate navigation, the foreign commerce power would be effectively nullified (every state deserves the opportunity to trade with foreign countries, even those that are inland). Extending this argument, Congress should also have the ability to govern navigation between states and even into states, as long as the commerce is not entirely intrastate.


Gibbons v. Ogden is the first case addressing the scope of the Commerce Clause. Chief Justice John Marshall lays (J. Marshall) the foundation for future Commerce Clause cases by broadly interpreting Congress’ power under the clause.

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