ArtI.S8.C3.6.2 Channels of Interstate Commerce

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; . . .

In United States v. Lopez, the Court identified “channels of interstate commerce” as being subject to Congress’s Commerce Clause power.1 Channels of interstate commerce encompasses physical conduits of interstate commerce such as highways, waterways, railroads, airspace, and telecommunication networks, as well as the use of such interstate channels for ends Congress wishes to prohibit. As early as 1849, the Court had noted that whether “the transportation of passengers is a part of commerce is not now an open question.” 2 In Hoke v. United States, the Court expanded its description of interstate commerce to include “the transportation of persons and property.” 3 When the Court decided Caminetti v. United States in 1917, the Court observed that it was long settled that not only “the transportation of passengers in interstate commerce” but also the use of such authority to keep those channels “free from immoral and injurious uses” falls within Congress’s regulatory power under the Commerce Clause.4

Courts have upheld various acts of Congress as falling within its authority to regulate channels of interstate commerce. For example, in United States v. Morrison, the Court noted that federal courts have uniformly upheld a federal prohibition on traveling across state lines to commit intimate-partner abuse, reasoning that the prohibition regulates “the use of channels of interstate commerce—i.e., the use of the interstate transportation routes through which persons and goods move.” 5

In Pierce County v. Guillen, the Court considered the constitutionality of a law that prohibited using certain highway data identifying hazardous highway locations, which the Highway Safety Act (HSA) of 1966 required states to collect, in discovery or as evidence in state or federal court proceedings.6 The Court observed that the provision had been adopted in response to states being reluctant to comply with the HSA’s requirements due to concerns about potential liability for accidents that occurred in those hazardous locations before they could be addressed.7 The Court concluded that the data collection requirement was adopted to help state and local governments “in reducing hazardous conditions in the Nation’s channels of commerce,” and that “Congress could reasonably believe that adopting a measure eliminating an unforeseen side effect of the information-gathering requirement . . . would result in more diligent efforts [by states] to collect the relevant information.” 8 Accordingly, the Court held that the provision preventing use of the data in state and federal court proceedings—not just the data collection itself—was within the scope of Congress’s Commerce Clause power.9

United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558–59 (1995) (citations omitted). back
Smith v. Turner, 48 U.S. (7 How.) 283, 401 (1849). back
227 U.S. 308, 320 (1913). back
242 U.S. 470, 491 (1917). back
529 U.S. 598, 613 n.5 (2000). back
537 U.S. 129, 133–34, 146–48 (2003). back
Id. at 133–34, 147. back
Id. at 129, 147. back
Id. at 147–48. back