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How to Understand the Commerce Clause in One Simple Sentence


Contrary to popular belief, the Commerce Clause is easily understood and intrepreted.

The Capital is mirrored in the Capital Reflecting Pool on Capitol Hill in Washington early Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Have you ever wished someone would break down some of the more difficult clauses in the Constitution in a way that was easy to understand?

If so, buckle up because you’re about to learn a lot about the Commerce Clause.

The Commerce Clause is a critical part of the Constitution because it is a favorite of progressives who want to grow the size and power of government. For over a century now, it has been used to justify the federal government intruding into all kinds of local, and even personal, economic activity.

In fact, during the debate over Obamacare, some lawyers and judges even tried to claim that it was the Commerce Clause that somehow gave Congress the power to force you to buy health care.

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A lot of people in the legal field will tell you that if you want to understand the Commerce Clause you have to spend a lot of time intensely studying it because it’s super-duper complicated. There is a grain of truth to that: it’s very difficult to figure out all the ways that the Supreme Court has distorted and abused this clause over the years.

But, as I explained this weekend on TheBlaze Radio’s Chris Salcedo Show, understanding the Founders’ original intent behind the Commerce Clause is very simple:

Let me break that down even more for you. The Commerce Clause appears in Article 1, Section 8 and states that Congress has the power:

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

“And” is the key word here because it tells us the power to regulate foreign commerce is the exact same as the power to regulate interstate commerce. That’s critical because it means that any type of commerce that Congress can regulate domestically among the states also has to be something it could regulate with a foreign country.

What’s cool about that is it makes it very easy for you to figure out what Congress has the authority to regulate when it comes to commerce “among the several states.”

Justice Clarence Thomas spoke for the first time in court in nearly seven years and drew laughter. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Justice Clarence Thomas. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In his concurring opinion in United States v. Lopez (1995), Justice Clarence Thomas simplified this idea and gave us the one step we need to understand the Commerce Clause. He explained that for Congress to have the power to regulate something in interstate commerce, that regulation would have to make sense in this sentence:

Congress has the power to regulate ______________ with foreign nations.

Anything that doesn’t fit logically into that sentence would be unconstitutional for Congress to regulate under the Commerce Clause.

Let’s give it a try with agriculture:

Congress has the power to regulate agriculture with foreign nations.

Obviously that’s nonsense because it’s not possible to have agriculture with foreign nations. Under the Constitution as it was intended, Congress doesn’t have the authority to regulate agriculture. You can try this exercise with all kinds of economic activity (agriculture, mining, manufacturing) and you’ll find that there’s only one that works: trade.

Congress has the authority to regulate trade between the states; or in other words, the process of goods and services moving from one state to another. Not the products themselves. Not the process of creating those products. Just the act of the products moving from state to state. That’s it.

The Capital is mirrored in the Capital Reflecting Pool on Capitol Hill in Washington early Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

It makes perfect sense when you think about why the Founders would give a power like this to the federal government. If it were left up to the states to work out the process of interstate trade amongst themselves, differences in policies would lead to disagreements and arguments. That’s a big problem.

For a country like ours to work, we need the states to have solid, positive relationships with each other. By giving Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, the Constitution eliminates one of the main sources for possible conflicts between the states.

We can’t allow people in the legal field and the political class to convince us that the Constitution is too difficult for us to understand. It’s a lie. These elites only want to discourage you from learning about it because they know what a powerful tool Constitutional knowledge is for preventing the federal government from expanding. The more you know about the Constitution, the harder it is for politicians and judges to distort it in ways that grant themselves more power.

You just saw how simple the original purpose and meaning of the Commerce Clause actually is. If you were able to understand this part of the Constitution, what reason do you have to believe that you can’t learn the rest?

Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio and visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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