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When a law refers to commerce (e.g. interstate/foreign commerce), is this only a reference to economic activity? Or does it refer more generally to forms of communication?

Considering 18 U.S. Code § 1958 (the commission of murder-for-hire), the statute states under part (b): "As used in this section...'facility of interstate or foreign commerce' includes means of transportation and communication".

If another statute does not explicitly define the meaning of "facility of commerce" (or commerce in general), how would this affect the interpretation of the word "commerce"?

  • This definition would not affect the definition applicable in another statute unless this definition is explicitly adopted by reference. I would also note that an interstate phone call is indeed an interstate commercial transaction, because it involves interstate provision of services. Traditionally, it would have involved multiple companies in multiple states and transfers of money between those companies. The existence of the Federal Communications Commission depends on the interstate commerce clause, so in general it would be hard to argue that commerce does not include communication. – phoog Apr 25 at 17:22
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Every single word in a statute is either defined in it explicitly, or the rules of statutory interpretation apply.

If another statute does not explicitly define the meaning of "facility of commerce" (or commerce in general), how would this affect the interpretation of the word "commerce"?

Either the mischief rule or, most likely, the plain meaning rule will apply (assuming that the word "commerce" is highly unlikely to cause any absurdity in interpretation so that the golden rule would need to be applied).

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  • Seems to an answer under UK law when the question seems to be regarding the U.S. Neither the mischief or golden rule seem to be American. – George White Apr 24 at 16:57
  • I would underscore that this definition would nost likely be inapplicable to another statute. For example, I have seen (in Wikipedia) the patently incorrect conclusion that US permanent residents are nationals of the United States under immigration law because the term "foreign national" is defined in campaign finance law to exclude them. Similarly, I've seen an incorrect argument here or on Politics that the definition of "subject to the jurisdiction of the US" found in law relating to the embargo of Cuba somehow applies to the 14th amendment. – phoog Apr 25 at 17:24
  • @GeorgeWhite in practice in the US, the crime would likely be prosecuted by one of the states involved, in which case the federal government would likely refrain from prosecution, so the question is likely to be moot (in the US sense). But more broadly the federal jurisdiction over communication arises from the interstate commerce clause, so regardless of the canons of statutory interpretation in use it won't be too difficult to establish that commerce includes communication. – phoog Apr 25 at 17:25
  • I didn't comment on your comment regarding communication. I noted that two of the three principles in the answer are not applicable to the U.S. – George White Apr 25 at 20:49
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In considering the code, it should not be implied that that definition applies to the other statutes unless it is expressly mentioned within the other statutes that that meaning does so apply as is intended.

How the meaning of “commerce” would be determined, like Greendrake said would be through statutory interpretation conventions and that may mean applying its ordinary meaning. Another way to analyse what it means would be to look at earlier precedents of justices determining its meaning and see what conventions they apply in their reasoning. They could create or read in a meaning based on the words of the sections surrounding the provision or extrinsic materials.

Reading judgements on cases involving commerce under the act would be the surest way to find how “commerce” is currently, and likely will be interpreted in the future.

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