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An Introduction to Constitutional Law » United States v. Dewitt

An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

In 1867, Congress criminalized the sale of oil that was made from petroleum—including transactions that were completed entirely within a single state. Mr. Dewitt was indicted for selling oil in Detroit, Michigan. His case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Chase wrote the majority opinion in Dewitt. He held that Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause, by itself, was not enough to enact the stat- ute. Chase wrote that the Commerce Clause is a “virtual denial [to Congress] of any power to interfere with the internal trade and business of the separate states.” This passage echoes Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Gibbons.

However, there is an important exception to the rule.

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