Citation. 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1 (1824)
Brief Fact Summary.
The state courts enjoined Gibbons from using any steamboats in navigating the waters in the territory of New York after Ogden, who had an exclusive state license to operate a steamboat in New York waters, sued to enjoin Gibbons.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes. In regulating commerce with foreign nations, the power of Congress does not stop at the jurisdictional lines of several States for it would be a very useless power if it could not pass those lines.
The New York law stated that no one can navigate the waters of New York without a license from the grantees of New York, under penalty of forfeiture of the vessel. New York granted an exclusive license to operate a steamboat to individuals on all waters within the jurisdiction of that state. The two assigned this license to Ogden, who sued to enjoin Gibbons from using any steamboats in navigating the waters in the territory of New York. Gibbons were running steamboats between New York City and New Jersey. Gibbons claimed that his boats were duly licensed under a congressional act. The state courts enjoined Gibbons, who then appealed to the U.S Supreme Court.
Can New York issue an exclusive license to navigate its water where Congress has the power to regulate commerce among States?
No, the acts of New York must yield to the law of Congress and the privilege the State is claiming against a right given by a law of the Union must be erroneous. In the exercise of the power over commerce, Congress has passed an act for licensing ships to be employed in the coasting trade and for regulating the same. Because the laws of the New York that prohibit vessels in its waters unless licensed according to the state law conflicted with the privileges granted by the federal licensing law, they are repugnant to the U.S Constitution and void.
The commerce power must be exclusive and shall reside in but one authority. Thus, such power shall be granted to Congress, leaving nothing for the State to act upon. The goal of adoption of the Constitution was to keep the commercial intercourse among the States free from all invidious and partial restraints.
The power of Congress to regulate commerce comprehends navigation within the limits of every state in the Nation so far as that navigation may be connected with commerce with foreign nations, or among the several states, or within the Indian tribes pursuant to the U.S Constitution. Congress, as a consequence, may pass the jurisdictional line of New York and act upon its waters to which the state prohibition applies. When a state proceeds to regulate commerce, it is exercising the very power that is granted to Congress. The Court, however, did not answer whether the commerce power is still in the states and whether such power is surrendered by the mere grant to Congress or retained until Congress has exercised the power. If Congress license vessels to sail from one port to another in the same State, the act is incidental to the power expressly granted to Congress and implies no claim of a direct power to regulate the purely internal commerce of a State. If a State shall adopt a measure of the same character with one which Congress may adopt, it does not derive its authority from the particular power that has been granted but from some other, which remains with the State.