The State of New York granted Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton the exclusive right of steamboat navigation on New York state waters. Livingston allotted to Ogden the right to navigate the waters between New York City and specific ports in New Jersey.
Ogden brought sought an injunction to restrain Gibbons from operating steam ships on New York waters in violation of his exclusivity. Ogden was granted the injunction and Gibbons appealed, asserting that his steamships were licensed under the Act of Congress entitled “An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same.” Gibbons asserted that the Act of Congress superseded the exclusive privilege granted by the state of New York.
The Chancellor affirmed the injunction, holding that the New York law granting the exclusive privilege was not repugnant to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that the grants were valid. Gibbons appealed and the decision was affirmed by the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, the highest Court of law and equity in the state of New York. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
- Can a state enact legislation that regulates the internal trade or the police powers, or is this power pursuant to the power of the Federal Government to regulate interstate commerce following the Constitution?
2.Do states have the power to regulate the phases of interstate commerce, which for the need of national uniformity, demand the regulation by a single autority?
- Does a state have the power to grant an exclusive right to the use of state waterways that is contradictory to federal law?
Holding and Rule (Marshall)
“The laws of New York granting to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton the exclusive right of navigating state waters with steamboats are in collision with the acts of Congress. The acts of Congress under the Constitution regulating the coasting trade are supreme. State laws must yield to that supremacy, even though enacted in pursuance of powers acknowledged to remain in the States. A license, such as that granted to Gibbons, pursuant to acts of Congress for regulating the coasting trade under the Commerce Clause of Article I confers a permission to carry on that trade.
The power to regulate commerce extends to every type of commercial intercourse between the United States and foreign nations and among the States. The commerce power includes the regulation of navigation, including navigation exclusively for the transportation of passengers. It extends to vessels propelled by steam or fire as well as to wind and sails.
The power to regulate commerce is general, and has no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution itself. It is exclusively vested in Congress and no part of it can be exercised by a State.
While the commerce power does not stop at the external boundary of a State, it does not extend to commerce, which is completely internal. State inspection laws, health laws, and laws for regulating transportation and the internal commerce of a State fall within the state police power and are not within the power granted to Congress.”
Reversed – judgment for Gibbons
“It is the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed.”