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Gibbons v. Ogden

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23, was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court that defined the scope of power given to Congress pursuant to the COMMERCE CLAUSE of the Constitution.

In 1800, the state of New York enacted a statute that gave ROBERT LIVINGSTON and Robert Fulton a monopoly—an exclusive right—to have their steamboats operate on the state waterways. Aaron Ogden owned a steamboat company and had received a license from Livingston and Fulton to conduct a business between ports in New York City and New Jersey. Ogden had formerly been in business with Thomas Gibbons, who started his own steamship company that operated between New York and New Jersey, in direct competition with Ogden.

Ogden brought an action to enjoin Gibbons from continuing to run his steamships, which were licensed in the coastal trade under a 1793 act of Congress. The state courts granted Ogden the INJUNCTION, and the case was brought on appeal to the Supreme Court.

DANIEL WEBSTER, the attorney for Gibbons, argued that the issuance of the injunction was wrongful since the laws that authorized the MONOPOLY were enacted in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. This clause gave Congress, not the states, the power to regulate commerce among the states. The term commerce included not only buying and selling but also navigation necessary to bring about such transactions.

In the majority opinion drafted by Chief Justice JOHN MARSHALL, the Court agreed with this definition of commerce and then reasoned that since Congress was vested with the power to regulate commerce, there could be no infringement of this power other than that specified in the Constitution. States cannot act in this area without express permission of Congress. The actions of New York State were an unauthorized interference with the power of Congress to regulate commerce, and therefore, the Court reversed the decree of the state court and dismissed the injunction against Gibbons.

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