Congressional Regulation of Land Transportation
Congressional Regulation of Land Transportation
Federal Stimulation of Land Transportation.—The settlement of the interior of the country led Congress to seek to facilitate access by first encouraging the construction of highways. In successive acts, it authorized construction of the Cumberland and the National Road from the Potomac across the Alleghenies to the Ohio, reserving certain public lands and revenues from land sales for construction of public roads to new States granted statehood.709 Acquisition and settlement of California stimulated interest in railway lines to the west, but it was not until the Civil War that Congress voted aid in the construction of a line from the Missouri River to the Pacific; four years later, it chartered the Union Pacific Company.710
The litigation growing out of these and subsequent activities settled several propositions. First, Congress may provide highways and railways for interstate transportation;711 second, it may charter private corporations for that purpose; third, it may vest such corporations with the power of eminent domain in the States; and fourth, it may exempt their franchises from state taxation.712
Federal Regulation of Land Transportation.—Congressional regulation of railroads may be said to have begun in 1866. By the Garfield Act, Congress authorized all railroad companies operating by steam to interconnect with each other so as to form continuous lines for the transportation of passengers, freight, troops, governmental supplies, and mails, to their destination.713 An act of the same year provided federal chartering and protection from conflicting state regulations to companies formed to construct and operate telegraph lines.714 Another act regulated the transportation by railroad of livestock so as to preserve the health and safety of the animals.715
709 Cf. Indiana v. United States, 148 U.S. 148 (1893).
710 12 Stat. 489 (1862); 13 Stat. 356 (1864); 14 Stat. 79 (1866).
711 The result then as well as now might have followed from Congress’ power of spending, independently of the commerce clause, as well as from its war and postal powers, which were also invoked by the Court in this connection.
712 Thomson v. Union Pacific R.R., 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 579 (1870); California v. Pacific R.R. Co. (Pacific Ry. Cases), 127 U.S. 1 (1888); Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas Ry. Co., 135 U.S. 641 (1890); Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 153 U.S. 525 (1894).
713 14 Stat. 66 (1866).
714 14 Stat. 221 (1866).
715 17 Stat. 353 (1873).
Congress’ entry into the rate regulation field was preceded by state attempts to curb the abuses of the rail lines in the Middle West, which culminated in the Granger Movement. Because the businesses were locally owned, the Court at first upheld state laws as not constituting a burden on interstate commerce;716 but after the various business panics of the 1870s and 1880s drove numerous small companies into bankruptcy and led to consolidation, there emerged great interstate systems. Thus in 1886, the Court held that a State may not set charges for carriage even within its own boundaries of goods brought from without the State or destined to points outside it; that power was exclusively with Congress.717 In
the following year, Congress passed the original Interstate Commerce Act.718 A Commission was authorized to pass upon the reasonableness of all rates by railroads for the transportation of goods or persons in interstate commerce and to order the discontinuance of all charges found to be unreasonable. The Commission’s basic authority was upheld in ICC v. Brimson,719 in which the Court upheld the validity of the Act as a means necessary and proper for the enforcement of the regulatory commerce power and in which it also sustained the Commission’s power to go to court to secure compliance with its orders. Later decisions circumscribed somewhat the ICC’s power.720
716 Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877); Chicago B. & Q. R. Co. v. Iowa, 94 U.S. 155 (1877); Peik v. Chicago & Nw. Ry. Co., 94 U.S. 164 (1877); Pickard v. Pullman Southern Car Co., 117 U.S. 34 (1886).
717 Wabash, St. L. & P. Ry. Co. v. Illinois, 118 U.S. 557 (1886). A variety of state regulations have been struck down on the burdening-of-commerce rationale. E.g., Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona ex rel. Sullivan, 325 U.S. 761 (1945) (train length); Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R., 272 U.S. 605 (1926) (locomotive accessories); Pennsylvania R.R. v. Public Service Comm’n, 250 U.S. 566 (1919). But the Court has largely exempted regulations with a safety purpose, even a questionable one. Brotherhood of Firemen v. Chicago, R. I. & P. R. Co., 393 U.S. 129 (1968).
718 24 Stat. 379 (1887).
719 154 U.S. 447 (1894).
720 ICC v. Alabama Midland Ry., 168 U.S. 144 (1897); Cincinnati, N.O. & Texas Pacific Ry. v. ICC, 162 U.S. 184 (1896).
Expansion of the Commission’s authority came in the Hepburn Act of 1906721 and the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910.722 By the former, the Commission was explicitly empowered, after a full hearing on a complaint, to determine and prescribe just and reasonable maximum rates; by the latter, it was authorized to set rates on its own initiative and empowered to suspend any increase in rates by a carrier until it reviewed the change. At the same time, the Commission’s jurisdiction was extended to telegraphs, telephones, and cables.723 By the Motor Carrier Act of 1935,724 the ICC was authorized to regulate the transportation of persons and property by motor vehicle common carriers.
The modern powers of the Commission were largely defined by the Transportation Acts of 1920725 and 1940.726 The jurisdiction of the Commission covers not only the characteristics of the rail, motor, and water carriers in commerce among the States but also the issuance of securities by them and all consolidations of existing companies or lines.727 Further, the Commission was charged with regulating so as to foster and promote the meeting of the transportation needs of the country. Thus, from a regulatory exercise originally begun as a method of restraint there has emerged a policy of encouraging a consistent national transportation policy.728
721 34 Stat. 584 (1906).
722 36 Stat. 539 (1910).
723 These regulatory powers are now vested, of course, in the Federal Communications Commission.
724 49 Stat. 543 (1935).
725 41 Stat. 474 (1920).
726 54 Stat. 898 (1940), U.S.C. § 1 et seq. The two acts were intended . . . to provide a completely integrated interstate regulatory system over motor, railroad, and water carriers. United States v. Pennsylvania R.R., 323 U.S. 612, 618–619 (1945). The ICC’s powers include authority to determine the reasonableness of a joint through international rate covering transportation in the United States and abroad and to order the domestic carriers to pay reparations in the amount by which the rate is unreasonable. Canada Packers v. Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry., 385 U.S. 182 (1966), and cases cited.
727 Disputes between the ICC and other Government agencies over mergers have occupied a good deal of the Court’s time. Cf. United States v. ICC, 396 U.S. 491 (1970). See also County of Marin v. United States, 356 U.S. 412 (1958); McLean Trucking Co. v. United States, 321 U.S. 67 (1944); Penn-Central Merger & N & W Inclusion Cases, 389 U.S. 486 (1968).
728 Among the various provisions of the Interstate Commerce Act which have been upheld are: a section penalizing shippers for obtaining transportation at less than published rates, Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56 (1908); a section construed as prohibiting the hauling of commodities in which the carrier had at the time of haul a proprietary interest, United States v. Delaware & Hudson Co., 213 U.S. 366 (1909); a section abrogating life passes, Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Mottley, 219 U.S. 467 (1911); a section authorizing the ICC to regulate the entire bookkeeping system of interstate carriers, including intrastate accounts, ICC v. Goodrich Transit Co., 224 U.S. 194 (1912); a clause affecting the charging of rates different for long and short hauls. Intermountain Rate Cases, 234 U.S. 476 (1914).
Federal Regulation of Intrastate Rates (The Shreveport Doctrine).—Although its statutory jurisdiction did not apply to intrastate rate systems, the Commission early asserted the right to pass on rates, which, though in effect on intrastate lines, gave these lines competitive advantages over interstate lines the rates of which the Commission had set. This power the Supreme Court upheld in a case involving a line operating wholly intrastate in Texas but which paralleled within Texas an interstate line operating between Louisiana and Texas; the Texas rate body had fixed the rates of the intrastate line substantially lower than the rate fixed by the ICC on the interstate line. Wherever the interstate and intrastate transactions of carriers are so related that the government of the one involves the control of the other, it is Congress, and not the State, that is entitled to prescribe the final and dominant rule, for otherwise Congress would be denied the exercise of its constitutional authority and the States and not the Nation, would be supreme in the national field.729
The same holding was applied in a subsequent case in which the Court upheld the Commission’s action in annulling intrastate passenger rates it found to be unduly low in comparison with the rates the Commission had established for interstate travel, thus tending to thwart, in deference to a local interest, the general purpose of the act to maintain an efficient transportation service for the benefit of the country at large.730
Federal Protection of Labor in Interstate Rail Transportation.—Federal entry into the field of protective labor legislation and the protection of organization efforts of workers began in connection with the railroads. The Safety Appliance Act of 1893,731 applying only to cars and locomotives engaged in moving interstate traffic, was amended in 1903 so as to embrace much of the intrastate rail systems on which there was any connection with interstate commerce.732 The Court sustained this extension in language much like that it would use in the Shreveport case three years later.733 These laws were followed by the Hours of Service Act of 1907,734 which prescribed maximum hours of employment for rail workers in interstate or foreign commerce. The Court sustained the regulation as a reasonable means of protecting workers and the public from the hazards which could develop from long, tiring hours of labor.735
729 Houston & Texas Ry. v. United States, 234 U.S. 342, 351–352 (1914). See also, American Express Co. v. Caldwell, 244 U.S. 617 (1917); Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Tax Comm’n, 297 U.S. 403 (1936); Weiss v. United States, 308 U.S. 321 (1939); Bethlehem Steel Co. v. State Board, 330 U.S. 767 (1947); United States v. Walsh, 331 U.S. 432 (1947).
730 Wisconsin R.R. Comm’n v. Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co., 257 U.S. 563 (1922). Cf. Colorado v. United States, 271 U.S. 153 (1926), upholding an ICC order directing abandonment of an intrastate branch of an interstate railroad. But see North Carolina v. United States, 325 U.S. 507 (1945), setting aside an ICC disallowance of intrastate rates set by a state commission as unsupported by the evidence and findings.
731 27 Stat. 531, 45 U.S.C. §§ 1–7.
732 32 Stat. 943, 45 U.S.C. §§ 8–10.
733 Southern Ry. v. United States, 222 U.S. 20 (1911). See also Texas & Pacific Ry. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33 (1916); United States v. California, 297 U.S. 175 (1936); United States v. Seaboard Air Line R.R., 361 U.S. 78 (1959).
734 34 Stat. 1415, 45 U.S.C. §§ 61–64.
735 Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. ICC, 221 U.S. 612 (1911).
Most far-reaching of these regulatory measures were the Federal Employers Liability Acts of 1906736 and 1908.737 These laws were intended to modify the common-law rules with regard to the liability of employers for injuries suffered by their employees in the course of their employment and under which employers were generally not liable. Rejecting the argument that regulation of such relationships between employers and employees was a reserved state power, the Court adopted the argument of the United States that Congress was empowered to do anything it might deem appropriate to save interstate commerce from interruption or burdening. Inasmuch as the labor of employees was necessary for the function of commerce, Congress could certainly act to ameliorate conditions that made labor less efficient, less economical, and less reliable. Assurance of compensation for injuries growing out of negligence in the course of employment was such a permissible regulation.738
Legislation and litigation dealing with the organizational rights of rail employees are dealt with elsewhere.739
Regulation of Other Agents of Carriage and Communications.—In 1914, the Court affirmed the power of Congress to regulate the transportation of oil and gas in pipelines from one State to another and held that this power applied to the transportation even though the oil or gas was the property of the lines.740 Subsequently, the Court struck down state regulation of rates of electric current generated within that State and sold to a distributor in another State as a burden on interstate commerce.741 Proceeding on the assumption that the ruling meant the Federal Government had the power, Congress in the Federal Power Act of 1935 conferred on the Federal Power Commission authority to regulate the wholesale distribution of electricity in interstate commerce742 and three years later vested the FPC with like authority over natural gas moving in interstate commerce.743 Thereafter, the Court sustained the power of the Commission to set the prices at which gas originating in one State and transported into another should be sold to distributors wholesale in the latter State.744 The sale of natural gas originating in the State and its transportation and delivery to distributors in any other State constitutes interstate commerce, which is subject to regulation by Congress ... The authority of Congress to regulate the prices of commodities in interstate commerce is at least as great under the Fifth Amendment as is that of the States under the Fourteenth to regulate the prices of commodities in intrastate commerce.745
736 34 Stat. 232, held unconstitutional in part in the Employers’ Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463 (1908).
737 35 Stat. 65, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51–60.
738 The Second Employers’ Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1 (1912). For a longer period, a Court majority reviewed a surprising large number of FELA cases, almost uniformly expanding the scope of recovery under the statute. Cf. Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R.R., 352 U.S. 500 (1957). This practice was criticized both within and without the Court, cf. Ferguson v. Moore-McCormack Lines, 352 U.S. 521, 524 (1957) (Justice Frankfurter dissenting); Hart, Foreword: The Time Chart of the Justices, 73 HARV. L. REV. 84, 96–98 (1959), and has been discontinued.
739 See discussion under Railroad Retirement Act and National Labor Relations Act, infra.
740 The Pipe Line Cases, 234 U.S. 548 (1914). See also State Comm’n v. Wichita Gas Co., 290 U.S. 561 (1934); Eureka Pipe Line Co. v. Hallanan, 257 U.S. 265 (1921); United Fuel Gas Co. v. Hallanan, 257 U.S. 277 (1921); Pennsylvania v. West Virginia, 262 U.S. 553 (1923); Missouri ex rel. Barrett v. Kansas Gas Co., 265 U.S. 298 (1924).
741 Public Utilities Comm’n v. Attleboro Co., 273 U.S. 83 (1927). See also Utah Power & Light Co. v. Pfost, 286 U.S. 165 (1932); Pennsylvania Power Co. v. FPC, 343 U.S. 414 (1952).
742 49 Stat. 863, 16 U.S.C. §§ 791a–825u.
743 52 Stat. 821, 15 U.S.C. §§ 717–717w.
744 FPC v. Natural Gas Pipeline Co., 315 U.S. 575 (1942).
745 315 U.S. at 582. Sales to distributors by a wholesaler of natural gas delivered to it from out-of-state sources are subject to FPC jurisdiction. Colorado-Wyoming Co. v. FPC, 324 U.S. 626 (1945). See also Illinois Gas Co. v. Public Service Co., 314 U.S. 498 (1942); FPC v. East Ohio Gas Co., 338 U.S. 464 (1950). In Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Wisconsin, 347 U.S. 672 (1954), the Court ruled that an independent company engaged in one State in production, gathering, and processing of natural gas, which it thereafter sells in the same State to pipelines that transport and sell the gas in other States is subject to FPC jurisdiction. See also California v. Lo-Vaca Gathering Co., 379 U.S. 366 (1965).
Other acts regulating commerce and communication originating in this period have evoked no basic constitutional challenge. These include the Federal Communications Act of 1934, providing for the regulation of interstate and foreign communication by wire and radio,746 and the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, providing for the regulation of all phases of airborne commerce, foreign and interstate.747
746 48 Stat. 1064, 47 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Cf. United States v. Southwestern Cable Co., 392 U.S. 157 (1968), on the regulation of community antenna television systems (CATV).
747 52 Stat. 973, as amended. The CAB has now been abolished and its functions are exercised by the Federal Aviation Administration, 49 U.S.C. § 106, as part of the Department of Transportation.
Last modified: June 9, 2014