Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

A New York state law gave Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton a 20-year monopoly over navigation on waters within state jurisdiction. Aaron Ogden and other competitors tried to forestall the monopoly, but Livingston and Fulton largely succeeded in selling franchise or buying competitors’ boats. Thomas Gibbons -- a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New Jersey under a federal coastal license – formed a partnership with Ogden, which fell apart after three years when Gibbons operated another steamboat on a New York route belonging to Ogden. Ogden filed suit against Gibbons in New York state court, and received a permanent injunction. The New York state court rejected Gibbons’ argument asserting that U.S. Congress controlled interstate commerce.


  1. Does the Commerce Clause give Congress authority over interstate navigation?


  1. Justice Marshall concluded that regulation of navigation by steamboat operators and others for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by the Congress under the Commerce Clause. As interstate navigation fell under interstate commerce, New York could not interfere with it, and the law was therefore invalid. In a concurring opinion, Justice William Johnson argued that the national government had exclusive power over interstate commerce, negating state laws interfering with the exercise of that power. Justice Thompson did not participate in the discussion or decision of the case.