Champion v. Ames (The Lottery Case), 188 U.S. 321; 23 S. Ct. 321; 47 L. Ed. 492 (1903)

Facts—Congress passed legislation in 1895 to suppress lottery traffic through national and interstate commerce and the postal service. The regulation provided a prison term for each violation. Charles Champion was arrested for violating the act and claimed that the act was unconstitutional since the law at issue was a prohibition rather than a mere regulation.

Question—Did Congress exceed its power in passing the legislation in question?


Reasons—J. Harlan (5–4). Congress by the act did not assume to interfere with traffic or commerce in lottery tickets carried on exclusively within the limits of any state, but had in view only commerce of that kind among the several states. As a state may, for the purpose of guarding the morals of its own people, forbid all sales of lottery tickets within its limits, so Congress, for the purpose of guarding the people of the United States against the “widespread pestilence of lotteries” and to protect the commerce that concerns all the states, may prohibit the carrying of lottery tickets from one state to another. Congress alone has the power to occupy by legislation the whole field of interstate commerce. If the carrying of lottery tickets from one state to another be interstate commerce, and if Congress is of the opinion that an effective regulation for the suppression of lotteries, carried on through such commerce, is to make it a criminal offense to cause lottery tickets to be carried from one state to another, the Court knew of no authority to hold that the means was not appropriate.

The Court held “that lottery tickets are subject to traffic among those who choose to sell or buy them; that the carriage of such tickets by independent carriers from one state to another is therefore interstate commerce; that under its power to regulate commerce among the several states Congress—subject to the limitations imposed by the Constitution upon the exercise of the powers granted—has plenary authority over such commerce, and may prohibit the carriage of such tickets from state to state; and that legislation to that end, and of that character, is not inconsistent with any limitation or restriction imposed upon the exercise of the powers granted to Congress.”

Dissenting justices led by C.J. Fuller argued that lottery tickets were not legally items of commerce, that they were not inherently harmful, and that Congress was interfering with police powers legitimately vested in the states.

Note—This case demonstrates how Congress can use its power under the commerce clause to exercise some federal “police powers.”

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