Raymond Keating: Interviews Thomas Woods On Schumer And Commerce Clause

Historians in the News

What's the deal with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the Commerce Clause?

During Senate confirmation hearings last week, Schumer tried to pin down Judge John G. Roberts, President George W. Bush's nominee for chief justice of the United States, on this part of the Constitution. Many people probably asked: Why?

The Commerce Clause says that Congress shall "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes." But what does that mean? Historians can help, although they have their own viewpoints just like politicians, lawyers and columnists. Historical truth exists but is not always easy to discover.

Fortunately, we can turn to a Long Island resident. Thomas E. Woods Jr. is a history professor at Suffolk Community College and the author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," published last year.

Woods sees a strong bias among his fellow historians. He told me last week: "They tend to be on the left. They tend to be anti-market." They take for granted that the increase and centralization of power in the federal government "has only been an unambiguously progressive thing."

Enter Schumer and the Commerce Clause.

Woods said the Commerce Clause originally allowed Congress to regulate interstate commerce, mainly "that the federal government will make sure that there's a big free trade zone in the U.S." But he added, "Once the federal government, particularly around the 1930s, decided that it really wanted to run just about everything, the trick became trying to define all spheres of human activity as somehow constituting interstate commerce. Therefore, it would fall under the constitutional provision allowing for regulation."

Ah, now it becomes clear. Schumer is worried that Roberts might respect the Constitution as it was written and intended. The senator wants to make sure that Congress maintains the unconstitutional power grab it has enjoyed for much of the past seven decades - that is, to pretty much regulate whatever it wants without any interference from that pesky Constitution.

In his book, Woods highlights Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which also was brought up at Roberts' hearing, where the Supreme Court "ruled that a farmer growing wheat for his own use on his own property fell under the heading of 'interstate commerce' and was subject to federal regulation." If that's interstate commerce, what isn't? Nothing, and that's the way Schumer likes it.

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