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The enumerated powers are a list of specific responsibilities found in Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution, which iterates the authority granted to the United States Congress. Congress may exercise only those powers that are granted to it by the Constitution, limited by the Bill of Rights and the other protections found in the Constitutional text.

The classical statement of a government of enumerated powers is that by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland:

This government is acknowledged by all, to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the powers granted to it, would seem too apparent, to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted.

On the one hand, strict Constitutionalists believe that Congress's power should be limited to only those duties listed in the Constitution. . On the other hand, more liberal interpreters of the constitution allow for powers more tangential to those duties. Many individuals cite the Necessary and Proper and the Commerce clause as grounds for their argument. Many conservatives cite the Tenth Amendment as grounds for their arguments. However, over time the overall trend has seen more power shifting to the Congress. This can be noted especially after the Great Depression, when U.S. federal government New Deal programs imposed strict regulations on the economy.



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, feel that the Necessary and Proper Clause expands the authority of Congress to all areas tangentially related to 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 elastic clause has been paired with the commerce clause in particular to provide the constitutional basis for a wide variety of expansive federal laws. The powers given to the state are unofficial business.

Recent case law

The case of United States v. Lopez [1] 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 a federal statute to have exceeded the commerce power of Congress.

For more details see: The Rehnquist Court and the Commerce Clause

Enumerated Powers Act

The Enumerated Powers Act, [2], 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 the law is being enacted. In every Congress since the 104th Congress, U.S. Congressman John Shadegg has 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.


  1. ^ 514 U.S. 549
  2. ^ H.R. 2458

See also

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