Champion v. Ames

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Champion v. Ames
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Citation 188 U.S. 321 (1903)
Date decided February 23, 1903
Appealed from Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois


Champion was arrested for shipping a box of lottery tickets by express from Texas to California in violation of the Federal Lottery Act, which prohibited importation, mailing or causing interstate carriage of lottery tickets. Claiming that the Act was unconstitutional, D obtained a writ of habeas corpus. D appeals from a dismissal of the writ.


Does Congress have power under the Commerce Clause to regulated undesirable activity?



  • Lottery tickets are subjects of commerce. They can be sold and transported. Hence, they can be regulated when trafficked from state to state. The power to regulate includes the power to prohibit
  • This statute does not interfere with traffic or commerce carried on exclusively within the limits of a state. A state could prohibit sales of lottery tickets within its boundaries; so may Congress, for the purpose of guarding the people of the US against the “wide-spread pestilence of lotteries,” and to protect the commerce that concerns all the states, prohibit the carrying of lottery tickets from one state to another.
  • Congress has the complete power to prohibit such commerce because it is the only governmental power capable of protecting the public from the evils of interstate traffic of lottery tickets.




Note transformation of Commerce Clause into a federal police power.

  • Rationale: Congress has plenary power over the channels or facilities of interstate commerce, it may prohibit their use for any activity that it deems adverse to the public health and welfare. Congress may prohibit entry into interstate commerce of:
    • Goods harmful to interstate commerce itself (diseased animals that might spread disease)
    • Commercial items that are harmful (adulterated or misbranded items)
    • Noncommercial items that constitute evil activity (stolen goods)

Dissent: (Fuller, Brewer, Shiras, & Peckham) Congress does not have power to suppress lotteries. Use of the police power has been reserved to the states by the 10th Amend. Furthermore, lottery tickets are not objects of commerce. They are matters of public health, good order, and prosperity which is for the states to regulate. This decision attempts to transform a noncommercial article into a commercial one simply because it is transported. Distinguishes lottery tickets from diseased goods (see Lochner’s assessment of jobs that need regulation)

  • Modalities: Textual—Meaning of the word.


  • Ethical
    • The nature of the business of transporting from one state to another
    • The nature of interstate traffic must be examined to determine if regulation may include prohibition.
      • Also Originalist (meaning when law written)
      • Doctrinal (Precedent est. by Phalen v. Virginia) in defining lottery v. gambling establishments
  • Structural/Textual
    • 10th Amendment limit power? No the power to regulate commerce among the states is plenary—expressly delegated to Congress.
    • Has not taken away the power of the states, it has just legislated in respect of a matter which concerns the people of the US. Congress supplemented the action of the states.
  • Prudential--Congress alone has the power to occupy, by legislation, the whole field of interstate commerce.
  • Textual—Meaning of the word "commerce" as used in the constitution is not defined in the Constitution.