In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the Commerce Clause empowers the federal government to regulate all, or nearly all, private establishments, including a barbeque restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama.
This case is activist because the majority contorts the text of the Constitution and abuses precedent by reinforcing previous grave errors of the Court. The majority relies on the activist case of Wickard v. Filburn to further extend the federal government’s reach. Once again, the Court strained the Commerce Clause to achieve a desired (and laudable) end. According to the Court, the federal government may regulate any activity that can be said to “affect commerce” between the states.
Justice Clark, writing for the Court, stated that Ollie’s Barbecue, a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, was subject to federal regulation because it received “$70,000 worth of food which has moved in commerce.” However, the activity that the government sought to regulate under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was neither interstate commerce nor an instrumentality of interstate commerce. In this way, Katzenbach expanded federal antidiscrimination law to reach any private conduct involving products that traveled through interstate commerce—in other words, practically all conduct. The result was a federal government even less restrained than before by the enumeration of its specific powers.