This Essay makes two claims about different methods of defining the expanse and limits of the Commerce Clause. My first claim is that approaches that privilege traditional subjects of state regulation are unworkable and undesirable. These approaches are unworkable in light of the frequency with which the federal government and the states regulate the same subject matter in our world of largely overlapping federal and state legislative jurisdiction. The approaches are undesirable because the question of customary allocation is unrelated to the principal reason why Congress possesses the power to regulate interstate commerce: solving collective action problems involving multiple states. These problems are evident in the way that some federal judges invoked regulatory custom in litigation over the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The areas of “health insurance” and “health care” are not of exclusive state concern, and it is impossible to lose—or to win—a competition requiring skillful lawyers or judges to describe them as more state than federal, or more federal than state. Nor is it most important what the answer is.
More promising are the approaches that view congressional authority as turning on either commercial activity or collective action problems facing the states. My second claim is that these two approaches have advantages and disadvantages, and that the choice between them exemplifies the more general tension between applying rules and applying their background justifications. I have previously defended a collective action approach to Article I, Section 8. My primary purpose in this Essay is to clarify the jurisprudential stakes in adopting one method or the other and to identify the problems that advocates of each approach must address.
Neil S. Siegel, Distinguishing the “Truly National” From the “Truly Local”: Customary Allocation, Commercial Activity, and Collective Action, 62 Duke LawJournal 797-828 (2012).
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