30 Enumerated Powers Explained

 

 

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is widely cited as being an exhaustive list of Congressional power. But, in reality, there are a total of thirty (up to 35, depending on how they’re counted) Congressional powers that are listed throughout the document. Find them here:

  • To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

  • To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

  • To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

  • To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

  • To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

  • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

  • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

  • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

  • To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

  • To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

  • To provide and maintain a Navy;

  • To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

  • To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

  • To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

  • To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

  • No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws:and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

  • The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

  • In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

  • The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

  • The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

  • 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.

  • Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

  • New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union;

  • 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.

  • The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress

  • The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment…
    The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

  • The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

Federalism is the distribution of power between the federal government and state governments. However, the Constitution does not create clear-cut lines for which types of policy fall under each level of government. 

This has led to questions over the balance of power between national and state governments. The appropriate distribution of power has been interpreted differently over time. At some points, measures have been taken to enhance federal power, while at other points, the Framers, and later, the Supreme Court, have enhanced state power. 

 

Key terms

TermDefinition

commerce clausePart of Article I of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce (buying and selling of goods across state lines).

federalismAn institutional arrangement that creates two relatively autonomous levels of government, each possessing the capacity to act directly on behalf of the people with the authority granted to it by the national constitution. 

enumerated powersPowers of the federal government that are explicitly named in the Constitution.

implied powersPowers of the federal government that are not explicitly named in the Constitution but are implied so that the federal government can carry out its enumerated powers.

necessary and proper clausePart of Article I of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to create laws that they find “necessary and proper” for performing their constitutional responsibilities.

Tenth AmendmentConstitutional amendment that stipulates that all powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people.

Fourteenth AmendmentConstitutional amendment that grants citizenship, equal protection, and due process under the law to all people born in the United States.

 

Enumerated vs. implied powers

What's the difference between enumerated and implied powers, and why should we care?

Here's a real-world example: Say that your parents tell you that they'll pay for you to get ice cream with your friends. Awesome! 

You make a plan with your friends, wait for the bus to head downtown, pay the fare, ride to the ice cream shop, get ice cream, and come back by the bus. When you get home, you tell your parents that the ice cream cost you $5 and the bus fare came to $4, so you need $9, please. 

Your parents respond, "We only said we'd pay for ice cream! We didn't say we'd pay for you to get to the ice cream shop. We only owe you $5." 

But how could you have gotten ice cream with your friends if you couldn't get to your friends? Well, maybe you could have bought a half-gallon of ice cream and invited your friends over . . . although you still would have had to go to the grocery store to do that, too. Is it even possible to get ice cream without going through some other step? 

This is the essence of enumerated vs. implied powers: enumerated powers are those things that the Constitution explicitly says Congress can do (in Article I): levy taxes, regulate commerce with other nations, borrow and coin money, establish post offices, raise an army, and declare war, among other things. 

But Article I also says that Congress shall have the power to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers." From this "necessary and proper clause" Congress argued that it had implied powers to do those things necessary in order to achieve its enumerated powers. For example, if Congress has the power to coin money, it's implied that Congress has the power to set up mints and pay workers to run those mints. In McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court confirmed that Congress can exercise these implied powers.

Although this seems pretty straightforward, it gets more difficult to decide just what counts as an implied power if you consider how to define "necessary." What if when your parents said they'd pay for you to get ice cream with your friends, you deemed it necessary to rent a helicopter to fly to the ice cream shop in style? Was that absolutely necessary, or was that just taking advantage of the opportunity? This conflict over the limits of federal power continues today. 

 

Key documents to know

Constitution (1787) — The fundamental laws and principles that govern the United States. The document resulted from several compromises between Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the Constitutional Convention.

Image of the Bill of Rights. 

The Bill of Rights. Image credit: National Archives

 

Key cases to know

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) — Supreme Court case which guaranteed the supremacy of federal laws over state laws and declared that Congress has implied powers not listed in the Constitution in order to fulfill their enumerated powers. 

US v. Lopez (1995) — Supreme Court case which stopped Congress from using the commerce clause to ban guns in schools

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