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NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation


After the break is a short essay I wrote on the Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937). The essay briefly addresses some of the case history regarding the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution as well as the impact that NLRB had on the expansion of the federal government and the destruction of federalism, States’ rights, and individual rights:

The Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, a new precedent was established through which what remained of state power and sovereignty and individual rights would be trampled by the ever growing federal government. In this case, the NLRB charged Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation (Defendants) with “unfair labor practices affecting interstate commerce” because they allegedly fired workers who chose to organize into a union.(1) The Circuit Court of Appeals found for the defendant and ruled that the order to cease “unfair labor practices” by the NLRB was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court heard the case and reversed the decision, marking a “dramatic departure…from a century and a half of precedent”(2) and putting another nail in the coffin of federalism.

In 1824, not long after the Constitution was written and adopted, the Court granted the federal government powers beyond the “narrowest definition” of the commerce clause, “to make regular” or “facilitate the free flow of goods, but not, except in cases of danger, to prohibit the flow of any good”(3); and instead adopted the position that the power granted by the commerce clause allowed congress to regulate interstate commerce in any manner it deems fit, limited only by “the political check of the voters.”(3) However, Chief Justice Marshall also made clear that since the framers of the Constitution felt the need to enumerate this specific power than there must be unenumerated power that was not granted and that “something, if we regard the language or the subject of the sentence, must be the exclusively internal commerce of the state.”(3) Following this decision, “Congress was relatively careful to limit its use of the commerce clause” to justify legislation. Until Franklin Roosevelt decided, in the midst of the Great Depression, to greatly expand federal government and its powers. This led to the Supreme Court striking down many of the laws he advocated as unconstitutional [Railroad Retirement Board v. Alton Railroad Co. (1935),A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp v. United States (1935), Carter v. Carter Coal Co. (1936)] All of these cases maintained most of the precedent set in the 1824 case. However, after Roosevelt politicized the Supreme Court’s decisions, comparing them to the very racist Dredd Scott decision, and threatening to pack the court with sympathetic judges the Court appears to have given in to the pressure in NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation. In this decision, the Supreme Court held that Congress could now regulate intrastate activities that have a “close substantial relation to interstate commerce” making regulation “essential or appropriate to protect that commerce from burdens and obstructions.”(4) This ruling has led to almost limitless expansion of the federal government as almost any activity can be shewn to be related or connected to interstate commerce, as demonstrated in Wickard v. Filburn, where the federal government was able to regulate even home-grown wheat used by the grower themselves to feed themselves and their horses since they had they purchased the wheat it would be reflected in the national market and could therefore be regulated.

Congress’s power under the commerce clause has continue to expand ever since and has almost been upheld every time, with a couple of exceptions [United States v. Lopez (1995)]. This has destroyed the system of federalism that founding fathers intended.


2. United States v. Lopez (1995)

3. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. Edited by Edwin Meese III. 2005.

4. Men in Black. Mark R. Levin. 2005.

Filed under Politics
Nov 29, 2009