United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 18 (1995)

Page:   Index   Previous  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  Next

566

UNITED STATES v. LOPEZ

Opinion of the Court

has authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate numerous commercial activities that substantially affect interstate commerce and also affect the educational process. That authority, though broad, does not include the authority to regulate each and every aspect of local schools.

Admittedly, a determination whether an intrastate activity is commercial or noncommercial may in some cases result in legal uncertainty. But, so long as Congress' authority is limited to those powers enumerated in the Constitution, and so long as those enumerated powers are interpreted as having judicially enforceable outer limits, congressional legislation under the Commerce Clause always will engender "legal uncertainty." Post, at 630. As Chief Justice Marshall stated in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819):

"Th[e] [federal] government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it . . . is now universally admitted. But the question respecting the extent of the powers actually granted, is perpetually arising, and will probably continue to arise, as long as our system shall exist." Id., at 405.

See also Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat., at 195 ("The enumeration presupposes something not enumerated"). The Constitution mandates this uncertainty by withholding from Congress a plenary police power that would authorize enactment of every type of legislation. See Art. I, 8. Congress has operated within this framework of legal uncertainty ever since this Court determined that it was the Judiciary's duty "to say what the law is." Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803) (Marshall, C. J.). Any possible benefit from eliminating this "legal uncertainty" would be at the expense of the Constitution's system of enumerated powers.

In Jones & Laughlin Steel, 301 U. S., at 37, we held that the question of congressional power under the Commerce Clause "is necessarily one of degree." To the same effect

Page:   Index   Previous  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007