The Federal Lottery Act of 1895 cited moral grounds to forbid anyone from shipping lottery tickets across state lines. The United States indicted Charles Champion for violating the act, and he sought a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the law.
Specifically, Champion asserted that while Congress had the authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate some types of commerce, it had no power to outright prohibit it.
Champion appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court in Champion v. Ames, 188 U.S. 321 (1903). The question for the Court was whether Congress had the right to prohibit the transport of lottery tickets across state lines under its power to regulate interstate commerce.
A sharply divided Court held that Congress has the power to do so under its commerce power. Therefore, Congress could use its Commerce Clause authority to ban certain items from entering the stream of interstate commerce.
Further, the Court concluded that Congress’s motivations for that kind of prohibition were irrelevant if its regulation was constitutionally permissible. Thus, the fact that Congress outlawed the transport of lottery tickets across state lines on moral grounds made no difference.
The Court threw out Champion’s challenge, but the case remains significant as a milestone in Commerce Clause jurisprudence for the Court’s recognition of Congress’s expansive authority to regulate interstate commerce.
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