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The enumerated powers (also called expressed powers, explicit powers or delegated powers) of the United States Congress are listed in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. In summary, Congress may exercise the powers that the Constitution grants it, subject to the individual rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Moreover, the Constitution expresses various other limitations on Congress, such as the one expressed by the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Historically, Congress and the Supreme Court have broadly interpreted the enumerated powers, especially by deriving many implied powers from them.[1] The enumerated powers listed in Article One include both exclusive federal powers, as well as concurrent powers that are shared with the states, and all of those powers are to be contrasted with reserved powers that only the states possess.[2][3]

List of enumerated powers of the federal constitution

In addition to the above, Congress is granted a power by Article III Section 3: “The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.” Congress is also granted a power by Article IV Section 3: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

Several amendments explicitly grant Congress additional powers. For example, the Sixteenth Amendment grants the power to "lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived." A number of amendments include a Congressional power of enforcement.

Political interpretation

There are differences of opinion on whether current interpretation of enumerated powers as exercised by Congress is constitutionally sound.

One school of thought is called strict constructionism. Strict constructionists refer to a statement on the enumerated powers by Chief Justice Marshall in the case McCulloch v. Maryland:[4]

Another school of thought is referred to as loose construction. They often refer to different comments by Justice Marshall from the same case:

Necessary and Proper Clause

Interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause has been controversial, especially during the early years of the republic. Strict constructionists interpret the clause to mean that Congress may make a law only if the inability to do so would cripple its ability to apply one of its enumerated powers. Loose constructionists, on the other hand, believe it is largely up to Congress and not the courts to determine what means are "necessary and proper" in executing one of its enumerated powers. It is often known as the "elastic clause" because of the great amount of leeway in interpretation it allows; depending on the interpretation, it can be "stretched" to expand the powers of Congress, or allowed to "contract", limiting Congress. In practical usage, the clause has been paired with the Commerce Clause in particular to provide the constitutional basis for a wide variety of federal laws.[5]

The defining example of the Necessary and Proper Clause in U.S. history was McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. The United States Constitution says nothing about establishing a national bank. The U.S. government established a national bank that provided part of the government's initial capital. In 1819 the federal government opened a national bank in Baltimore, Maryland. In an effort to tax the bank out of business, the government of Maryland imposed a tax on the federal bank. James William McCulloch, a cashier at the bank, refused to pay the tax. Eventually the case was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall held that the power of establishing a national bank could be implied from the U.S. constitution. Marshall ruled that no state could use its taxing power to tax an arm of the national government.[6]

Recent case law

The case of United States v. Lopez[7] in 1997 held unconstitutional the Gun Free School Zone Act because it exceeded the power of Congress to "regulate commerce...among the several states". Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, "We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers." For the first time in sixty years the Court found that in creating a federal statute, Congress had exceeded the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause.[8]

In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius,[9] the Supreme Court held that the Commerce Clause did not give Congress the authority to require individuals to purchase health insurance. However, since the court ruled that Congress's taxing authority was sufficient to enact the mandate, some constitutional lawyers have argued that the commerce clause discussion should be treated as judicial dictum.[10][11] Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, stated that:

No other justice joined this segment of the Chief Justice's opinion.

Enumerated Powers Act

The Enumerated Powers Act[12] is a proposed law that would require all bills introduced in the U.S. Congress to include a statement setting forth the specific constitutional authority under which each bill is being enacted. From the 104th Congress to the 111th Congress, U.S. Congressman John Shadegg introduced the Enumerated Powers Act, although it has not been passed into law. At the beginning of the 105th Congress, the House of Representatives incorporated the substantive requirement of the Enumerated Powers Act into the House rules.[13]

The Enumerated Powers Act is supported by leaders of the U.S. Tea Party movement. National Tea Party leader Michael Johns has said that progressives often "see the Constitution as an impediment to their statist agenda. In almost all cases, though, there is very little thought or dialogue given to what should be the first and foremost question asked with every legislative or administrative governmental action: Is this initiative empowered to our federal government by the document's seven articles and 27 amendments? In many cases, the answer is no." "For this reason," Johns said, "we also strongly support the Enumerated Powers Act, which will require Congress to justify the Constitutional authority upon which all legislation is based."[14]

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