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Champion v. Ames 188 U.S. 321 (1903)

CHAMPION v. AMES 188 U.S. 321 (1903)

As the twentieth century opened, the Supreme Court began to sustain use of the commerce clause as an instrument to remedy various social and economic ills. (See national police power.) In 1895 Congress forbade interstate transportation of lottery tickets, seeking to safeguard public morals. Opponents challenged the act on three grounds: the tickets themselves were not subjects of commerce, Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce did not extend to outright prohibition, and such a power would violate the tenth amendment's reservation of certain powers to the states.

A 5–4 Court sustained the act, emphasizing Congress's plenary power over commerce. Because the tickets indicated a cash prize might be won, they were items liable to be bought or sold—thus, subjects of commerce and so subject to regulation. Citing the complete prohibition on foreign commerce in the embargo act of 1807, Justice john marshall harlan asserted that the power of regulation necessarily included the power of prohibition. Although he rejected the contention that "Congress may arbitrarily exclude from commerce among the states any article … it may choose," Harlan justified the ban on transporting lottery tickets on the ground that Congress alone had power to suppress "an evil of such appalling character," thus propounding the noxious products doctrine. Harlan dismissed the Tenth Amendment objection: that provision was no bar to a power that had been "expressly delegated to Congress."

Chief Justice melville w. fuller led Justices david brewer, Rufus Peckham, and george shiras in dissent. Fuller noted that the motive underlying the legislation was to suppress gambling, not to regulate commerce. He feared the disruption of distinct spheres of authority and the "creation of a centralized government." He also challenged Harlan's assertion that the commerce power included the right of prohibition. The Court, citing Champion, however, would soon uphold the pure food and drug act (in hipolite egg company v. united states, 1911), the mann act (in hoke v. united states, 1913), and others, relying on its expansive view of the commerce clause.

David Gordon

(see also: Darby Lumber Company, United States v.; Hammer v. Dagenhart.)

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