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What is the Commerce Clause?

35 min

Students will:

  • Analyze the Founders’ intentions in giving Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
  • Understand how power granted to Congress in the Commerce Clause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court through American history.
  • Evaluate arguments for and against federalism as a principle.
  • Determine whether federalism helps or harms freedom.

  • Handout A: Background Essay—How Has the Supreme Court Interpreted the Commerce Clause?
  • Handout B: Federalism: For or Against?
  • Handout C: Commerce Clause Timeline

Divide students into groups of three or four and have them complete Handout B: Federalism: For or Against?

  1. Go over the chart and clarify any questions students have.
    • ƒƒArguments in favor of federalism: 2, 3, 5
    • ƒƒArguments against federalism: 1, 4, 6
    • ƒƒCould be both/neither: 7, 8, 9
  2. Wrap up with a large group discussion.
    • ƒƒWhat arguments of their own did students write in the chart?
    • ƒƒWhich arguments are most convincing?
    • ƒƒHow much power did the Founders believe the national government would have over individuals?
    • What trade-offs are involved in giving the federal government increased power over states and individuals?

  1. Have students complete Handout C: Commerce Clause Timeline.
  2. Have students find additional examples of Commerce Clause rulings and add them to a larger version of the graph in Handout C. Using this background knowledge and observation of current events, predict what direction Commerce Clause rulings are likely to take in the near future. What kinds of variables are likely to affect these rulings? How do these issues reflect the issues of federalism and limited government?