Champion v. Ames

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188 U.S. 321 (1903), argued 15–16 Dec. 1902, decided 23 Feb. 1903 by vote of 5 to 4; Harlan for the Court, Fuller in dissent. Known as the Lottery Case, Champion v. Ames raised crucial questions regarding the extent of congressional power over interstate commerce and the existence of a federal equivalent of the state police power. These issues were central to the Progressives’ attempts to make federal authority commensurate with the nation's emerging needs.

Champion challenged the constitutionality of an 1895 statute designed to suppress the lottery traffic in interstate commerce under which he had been indicted. The majority focused on two major issues: whether lottery tickets were subjects of commerce and the scope of the interstate commerce power. Justice John Marshall Harlan ruled the tickets were items of real value, whose carriage across state lines was indeed interstate commerce. Defining the commerce power in extensive terms that recognized congressional authority to prohibit certain transportation and to meet expanding needs, he held the lottery act constitutional.

The minority opinion differed on definitions and the scope of power. It equated lottery tickets with contracts and negotiable instruments, which were not considered objects of traffic; denied that the tickets were intrinsically injurious; and maintained that federal exercise of the police power violated the Tenth Amendment. Despite Harlan's guarded language, both proponents and opponents viewed the decision as establishing a de facto federal police power, and national protective legislation increased rapidly. However, the focus on the injuriousness of the product provided a measure of flexibility that permitted the Court to retrench as progressivism waned.

Barbara C. Steidle

Subjects: Law.

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