The Commerce Clause is a Sentence in the United States Constitution that Provides Congress with the Power to Enact Laws

The Constitution of the United States, among other things, distributes power to the three branches of the federal government. These three branches are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Article I of the United States Constitution lists the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government.  The powers that Constitution expressly provides to Congress are called the enumerated powers because these are the powers listed in the Constitution.

The Commerce Clause is one of the enumerated powers listed in Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution

On the right you can read Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution.  Follow the ziplyne walkthrough (coming soon).  You will see that there are actually two parts to the Commerce Clause: the interstate and international commerce clauses, meaning that Congress has the power to regulate trade between the states and between the United States and other countries.

Article I Section 8

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

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

To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;

To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;

To establish post offices and post roads;

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;–And

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

Why is the Commerce Clause so Important?

The interstate and international commerce clauses are important because they are vital sources of the federal government’s ability to enact laws.

When Congress enacts a law, the Constitution must give Congress authority to enact that law, otherwise the law would be unconstitutional.  Regulating commerce between the states is one of the most critical bases for Congress to enact laws.  In other words, there must be a relationship between the law and Congress’s power to regulate interstate (and international) commerce.

Since the Great Depression, the Supreme Court has taken a much more lenient view of when  a law that has a connection to interstate commerce such that the Commerce Clause is satisfied.  The result has been a wider range of federal laws since the 1930s compared to the years prior to the Great Depression.

For example, Congress has constitutionally passed laws that prohibit certain types of racial and religious discrimination because the Supreme Court agreed that in enacting these laws Congress was acting within the scope of its power to regulate interstate commerce.

Below is a video on the commerce clause:


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