Citation. 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1 (1824)
Brief Fact Summary.
Congress passed a law providing for the licensing and regulation of ships engaged in specific activities, but New York passed a law that prevented a ship that was licensed under Congress’ law from navigating New York waters.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Congress passed an act in 1793 that provided for the regulation and licensure of ships to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries. Defendant Gibbons claimed his boats were properly enrolled and licensed under this act of Congress. However, the New York state legislature passed several acts attempting to grant third parties the exclusive navigation of all waters within New York’s jurisdiction.
Can a state regulate commerce while there is an act of Congress that regulates that same commerce under the Commerce Clause?
No, a state cannot regulate commerce while there is an act of Congress that regulates that same commerce under the Commerce Clause.
Justice Johnson argued that only Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce, and state laws that regulated interstate commerce were invalid.
The Supreme Court began its analysis by defining the scope of the Commerce Clause. According to the Supreme Court, “commerce” was commercial intercourse between nations and parts of nations, and it included navigation. The Supreme Court also found that the Commerce Clause gave Congress the power to regulate commerce within a state’s borders, so long as the commerce was not solely intrastate. For example, if a foreign voyage began or ended with an American state, then Congress could exercise its commerce power within the state.
According to the Supreme Court, Congress’ regulation at issue here did not rely on a claim of direct power to regulate the purely internal commerce of New York, which would be solely within New York’s jurisdiction to regulate. The Supreme Court further held that Congress’ regulation on licensing ships to be employed in coasting trade and fisheries was an excercise of the commerce power, and New York came in direct collision with this exercise by inhibiting the use of vessels that were licensed under the act of Congress.