The Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article I Section 8 Clause 3) grants authority to the United States to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states [interstate commerce].” Because the Commerce Clause does not grant authority to regulate intrastate commerce (commerce within a state), it represents a limit to federal authority, as a safeguard to liberty. Liberals, however, falsely interpret it as representing absolutely limitless authority.
It makes sense that federal laws would regulate interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause, for example, ensures that there would be no tariffs between states, thereby making the United States a free trade zone. It also regulates health and safety of goods transported between states. Commerce that occurs only within a state is not a matter subject to federal regulation, but state regulation.
During the early part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, liberals, together with a number of Northern conservatives, used the constitutional argument that the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution required that states must treat citizens equally in (e.g. to guarantee voting privileges for all people or to desegregate schools). But liberals were never satisfied with the Constitution. When that founding document limited their authority to do whatever they wanted, they essentially repealed it by changing the meaning of its words – without going through the required democratic process of amending it. They began to expand the interpretation of the Commerce Clause to such an extent that its limitation has become meaningless.
Liberals then claimed that because interstate commerce could potentially be interstate commerce (for example, the owner of a restaurant in a small town might possibly some day be patronized by an out-of-state visitor), all commerce is “interstate commerce,” which gives the federal government the authority to regulate all commerce, not only that among the states. As a result, the federal government now regulates all commerce, whether it is interstate or not, based on this theory that even intrastate commerce could potentially be interstate commerce, which means that the federal government has increasingly grown in its power and size.
In recent years, liberals have begun to interpret the Commerce Clause even more loosely. One state opted to produce guns that would be regulated by that state in such as way that the guns could not be sold to anyone out of state. In other words, this form of commerce would statutorily meet the definition of being intrastate commerce, not interstate commerce, which would thus not be subject to federal regulation. But liberals argued that the federal government would nevertheless be able to regulate it because even intrastate commerce could affect the U.S. economy, which, they claimed, is enough for them to assert their authority to regulate the activity. As I have noted in earlier posts, there is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to regulate the economy, as the economy is not the responsibility of government. Protecting the rights of the people is the responsibility of government.
This more liberal interpretation of the Commerce Clause is being applied to President Barak Obama’s proposed federalization of health insurance, except it is now being interpreted in an even looser way than before. Now, liberals are arguing that the federal government can – for the first time – require people to purchase something from a private business (in this case, health insurance), as a condition of residing in the United States. Their new argument is that even a choice not to engage in commerce at all (i.e. not to purchase health insurance) is nonetheless a form of commerce. Put another way, the liberals believe that they can even force someone to engage in commerce – intrastate commerce, at that, as the federal government bans the purchase of health insurance by citizens from one state from other states – under the Commerce Clause that grants the federal government only the authority to regulate commerce among the states. In short, the constitutional limit on the regulation of intrastate commerce is not being followed because liberals do not want any limitations on the federal government’s absolute authority to regulate whatever they want.
But the larger concern is that the liberal interpretation of the Constitution renders the founding document of the United States subject to the whim of liberals who want to expand the power of government instead of as a limit on government power. If liberals can change the meaning of a limit on power to something that gives them limitless power, then there is no part of the Constitution safe from their power essentially to repeal it through their insistence that words mean only what they intend them to mean, instead of what the Framers of the Constitution and its Amendments intended them to mean at the time they were democratically approved.
In conclusion, the constitutional protections of liberty through the limitation of the power of the federal government are being increasingly weakened, especially by an ever-looser interpretation of the Commerce Clause. It is critical for liberty that conservatives vociferously oppose the loosening of the interpretation of the Commerce Clause, especially as represented in Obama’s and the Congressional liberal Democrats’ proposed federal mandate to purchase heath insurance. Conservatives should demand an answer as to whether or not liberals believe the Constitution establishes any limits whatsoever on federal power.