In 1942, the Supreme Court ruled in Wickard v. Filburn that the Commerce Clause gives the United States federal government authority to regulate wheat production, even if that production is for personal consumption. How did this affect future Court decisions, and what are some major acts of Congress that depend on this ruling?


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It basically gave Congress permission to regulate anything. It stretched the commerce clause to cover anything with even a vague downstream effect on actual or potential interstate commerce. Some would contend that it essentially made the 9th and 10th amendments obsolete, but a rare ruling in 1990, United States v. Lopez struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. There was also the Printz v. United States case that struck down another gun control law on tenth amendment grounds.

Having received the signal that the courts would seldom object to any overreach, congress basically was able to assume the mission of state legislators in addition to their existing role. This would include things like health care, labor, education, and other things that were previously off-limits.

The structure of the USA is legally that of a federation with the federal government and the states jointly sharing sovereignty (with ultimate legitimacy derived from the consent of those governed). The Supremacy Clause definitely gives the federal government the upper hand, but this was supposed to be limited to a narrow list of powers. With this restriction removed, one might argue that the USA is effectively becoming a de-facto unitary state, but it isn't one yet due to a few remaining commerce clause restrictions and things like the anti-commandeering doctrine.

  • This is really good, except it mainly shows examples of failed acts from Congress, and I’m really looking for a few of the successful acts, particularly those that attempt to legislate our behavior or our personal business. Thank you.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 2, 2018 at 0:57
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    Agreed on both counts. I highlighted those two as some of the very rare exceptions. The elastic treatment of the commerce clause (coupled with the necessary and proper clause) is at odds with the 10th amendment (and perhaps federalism in general), and resolving these issues is well within the Supreme Court's role. The 10th amendment itself is effectively a truism.
    – David A
    Jan 2, 2018 at 11:56
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    A useful example might be the Controlled Substances Act. In order to prohibit alcohol in the early 20th century, a constitutional amendment was required. Gonzales v. Raich shows how things have changed.
    – David A
    Jan 2, 2018 at 12:03
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    One of the most notable decisions in the Wickard tradition was Heart of Atlanta Motel, a civil rights case questioning the authority of Congress to regulate civil rights in a small business. Another "success" is a recent SCOTUS case involving a prosecution of someone who made it their business to rob drug dealers who robbed an entirely locally sourced marijuana dealer under a crime that had an interstate commerce hook. The name escapes me at the moment. A third is private 10b-5 litigation over private intrastate securities sales (look it up).
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 3, 2018 at 6:00
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    How does this answer the question? How is Wickard v Filburn related to any of the things mentioned here? I'm assuming there is a clear link, and some readers (like me) need it spelled out a bit more. Jan 8, 2018 at 21:39

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