Wheels of Justice
Supreme Court tells New Jersey,
'Let the trucks roll’
A great example of how the Supreme Court views a state’s power over cargo and the transportation of cargo was demonstrated again on Oct. 2 when the Court let stand an appellate court’s ruling that New Jersey could not enforce their truck rules that allowed intrastate trucks on the rural and side roads without also allowing interstate trucks the same rights. New Jersey had been requiring all interstate trucks to use federal highways and interstate roads or face a fine for being off route.
Here is how interstate commerce was explained to me in law school (the quick version). A farmer grows wheat on his land in Nebraska. He ships the wheat to the processor in Kansas, who makes flour from the wheat. The flour is shipped to the baker in Georgia who makes bread from the flour. The baker ships the bread to the wholesale grocer in California. The wholesale grocer ships the bread to Oregon, Nevada and Arizona (it was really good southern bread).
So how does the Interstate Commerce Act work on the bread? Since the bread was shipped into Oregon from California, it crossed a state line and thus became an interstate commerce product protected by the Interstate Commerce Act. Because the government is concerned with the safety and quality of the bread, they can follow the chain back down the line to the farmer in Nebraska and require him to use a specific kind of fertilizer, because the bread was shipped over a state line and covered by interstate commerce.
Yeah, but what if the farmer feeds his own wheat to his livestock and makes his own flour…can he still be regulated by interstate commerce? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1945 that “federal crop price controls reached the wheat grown on a rural farm to be fed to the owners and their farm animals.” The ration-ale was that a farmer growing “his own wheat” is commerce because if he hadn’t grown and consumed it, he would have had to buy it from someone. Hence, in the aggregate, if farmers were al-lowed to consume their own wheat it would affect the interstate market in wheat.
Congress continues to use the Commerce Clause for its authority to pass laws affecting anything and everything not mentioned in the Constitution. If an activity affects interstate commerce in any way, then Congress has the power to regulate it. This logic has stood for over one hundred years. So the next time you eat a slice of bread, just know you are under the control of the Interstate Commerce Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.