In response to the rampant anticompetitive business practices of the Gilded Age, the 51st Congress authored what would prove to be one of the most enduring statutes in American law, the Sherman Act of 1890. More than a century later, it remains the cornerstone of antitrust law in this country. With fewer than 1,000 words altogether, the Sherman Act has also proved to be one of the most malleable, and courts have spent the ensuing decades interpreting the exact parameters of its two broad edicts. The first, that “every contract, combination … or conspiracy, in restraint of trade” was thenceforth illegal, and the second, which criminalized monopolization or attempts to do so. See 15 U.S.C. Section 1-2. The stringency of this statute, along with the complementary Clayton Act, has fluctuated over time in response to political and economic developments.
Like many other time-tested federal statutes, the Sherman and Clayton Acts have found themselves the template for similar state laws. Today, most states have their own antitrust statutes that are typically modeled after their federal counterparts. See N.J.S.A. 56:9-1 et seq.; 6 Del.C. Section 2101 et seq. New York, an early entrant into this arena, has the 1899 Donnelly Act as its primary antitrust statute. See N.Y. Gen. Bus. Section 340. The Donnelly Act’s opening line, “every contract, agreement, arrangement or combination whereby a monopoly in the conduct of any business … is hereby declared to be against public policy, illegal and void,” is a blend of the two critical prohibitions found in the Sherman Act. Many states now have their own antitrust statutes, with varying degrees of deviation from their federal counterparts.