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American Politics | Criminology and Criminal Justice


Article 1, Section 8, clause 3 of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power… To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. This short and simple statement has been progressively used, in combination with a few other powers both granted and assumed by various federal actors, to take greater and broader powers over the states and private citizenry. The original judicial understanding of the so-called Commerce Clause (differentiated from original intent) comes from the 1824 case of Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1. Through subsequent cases, the judicial understanding of the commerce clause is clarified. Then during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, there seemed to be a change in attitude toward using an enumerated power to infringe on a police power, which is properly the role of the individual states. Through this new understanding of the power of the commerce clause, 20th century America sees unprecedented growth in federal regulation and criminalization on numerous fronts of civil society. This understanding continued until about 1995, when the Supreme Court struck down the Gun Free School Zones Act as unconstitutional. This began a shift in the way the Court saw the power of the commerce clause as elements of the federal government began to temper what they perceived their powers to be.