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Gibbons v. Ogden


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A famous Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Marshall was Gibbons v. Ogden, a case that involved famed steamboat inventor Robert Fulton.

The State of New York had granted to two men, Fulton and Robert Livingston, exclusive rights to navigate steam boats up and down the waterways in New York State. Aaron Ogden paid Livingston a fee that enabled Ogden to have a share of this steamboat monopoly, and Ogden got permission from Livingston to sail steamboats between New York City and some ports in New Jersey.

Another steamboat operator, Thomas Gibbons, bypassed the monopoly held by Fulton, Livingston, and Ogden and started running his own ships between New York and the New Jersey ports. Ogden convinced a New York state court to prevent Gibbons from accessing the waterways, and Gibbons sued Ogden.

The case wound up in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled for neither party, really, although Gibbons won a nominal victory. The decision handed by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1824 was a reiteration of the power of the federal government, in this case the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution: Congress has the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

The Court said that because the steamships were operating between states, the result was interstate commerce, which the federal government had the express power to regulate.

The decision invalidated the monopoly granted by the State of New York, meaning that Gibbons could, in fact, run his steamships between the two states as often as he liked, without legal interference from Ogden or anyone else.

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