CRS Annotated Constitution

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This clause has been broadly construed to cover all structures necessary for carrying on the business of the National Government.1621 It includes post offices,1622 a hospital and a hotel located in a national park,1623 and locks and dams for the improvement of navigation.1624 But it does not cover lands acquired for forests, parks, ranges, wild life sanctuaries or flood control.1625 Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has held that a State may convey, and the Congress may accept, either exclusive or qualified jurisdiction over property acquired within the geographical limits of a State, for purposes other than those enumerated in clause 17.1626

After exclusive jurisdiction over lands within a State has been ceded to the United States, Congress alone has the power to punish crimes committed within the ceded territory.1627 Private property located thereon is not subject to taxation by the State,1628 nor can state statutes enacted subsequent to the transfer have any operation therein.1629 But the local laws in force at the date of cession that are protective of private rights continue in force until abro[p.338]gated by Congress.1630 Moreover, as long as there is no interference with the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, an area subject thereto may be annexed by a municipality.1631

Duration of Federal Jurisdiction

A State may qualify its cession of territory by a condition that jurisdiction shall be retained by the United States only so long as the place is used for specified purposes.1632 Such a provision operates prospectively and does not except from the grant that portion of a described tract which is then used as a railroad right of way.1633 In 1892, the Court upheld the jurisdiction of the United States to try a person charged with murder on a military reservation, over the objection that the State had ceded jurisdiction only over such portions of the area as were used for military purposes and that the particular place on which the murder was committed was used solely for farming. The Court held that the character and purpose of the occupation having been officially established by the political department of the government, it was not open to the Court to inquire into the actual uses to which any portion of the area was temporarily put.1634 A few years later, however, it ruled that the lease to a city, for use as a market, of a portion of an area which had been ceded to the United States for a particular purpose, suspended the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.1635

The question arose whether the United States retains jurisdiction over a place, which was ceded to it unconditionally, after it has abandoned the use of the property for governmental purposes and entered into a contract for the sale thereof to private persons. Minnesota asserted the right to tax the equitable interest of the purchaser in such land, and the Supreme Court upheld its right to do so. The majority assumed that “the Government’s unrestricted transfer of property to nonfederal hands is a relinquishment of the exclusive legislative power.”1636 In separate concurring opinions,[p.339]Chief Justice Stone and Justice Frankfurter reserved judgment on the question of territorial jurisdiction.1637

Reservation of Jurisdiction by States

For more than a century the Supreme Court kept alive, by repeated dicta,1638 the doubt expressed by Justice Story “whether Congress are by the terms of the Constitution, at liberty to purchase lands for forts, dockyards, etc., with the consent of a State legislature, where such consent is so qualified that it will not justify the ‘exclusive legislation’ of Congress there. It may well be doubted if such consent be not utterly void.”1639 But when the issue was squarely presented in 1937, the Court ruled that where the United States purchases property within a State with the consent of the latter, it is valid for the State to convey, and for the United States to accept, “concurrent jurisdiction” over such land, the State reserving to itself the right to execute process “and such other jurisdiction and authority over the same as is not inconsistent with the jurisdiction ceded to the United States.”1640 The holding logically renders the second half of clause 17 superfluous. In a companion case, the Court ruled further that even if a general state statute purports to cede exclusive jurisdiction, such jurisdiction does not pass unless the United States accepts it.1641

Clause 18. The Congress shall have Power * * * To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


Scope of Incidental Powers

That this clause is an enlargement, not a constriction, of the powers expressly granted to Congress, that it enables the lawmakers to select any means reasonably adapted to effectuate those[p.340]powers, was established by Marshall’s classic opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland.1642 “Let the end be legitimate,” he wrote, “let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.”1643 Moreover, the provision gives Congress a share in the responsibilities lodged in other departments, by virtue of its right to enact legislation necessary to carry into execution all powers vested in the National Government. Conversely, where necessary for the efficient execution of its own powers, Congress may delegate some measure of legislative power to other departments.1644

Operation of Coefficient Clause

Practically every power of the National Government has been expanded in some degree by the coefficient clause. Under its authority Congress has adopted measures requisite to discharge the treaty obligations of the nation;1645 it has organized the federal judicial system and has enacted a large body of law defining and punishing crimes. Effective control of the national economy has been made possible by the authority to regulate the internal commerce of a State to the extent necessary to protect and promote interstate commerce.1646 The right of Congress to utilize all known and appropriate means for collecting the revenue, including the distraint of property for federal taxes,1647 and its power to acquire property needed for the operation of the Government by the exercise of the power of eminent domain,1648 have greatly extended the range of national power. But the widest application of the necessary and proper clause has occurred in the field of monetary and fiscal controls. Inasmuch as the various specific powers granted by Article I, Sec. 8, do not add up to a general legislative power over such matters, the Court has relied heavily upon this clause in sustaining[p.341]the comprehensive control which Congress has asserted over this subject.1649


1621 James v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 143 (1937).
1622 Battle v. United States, 209 U.S. 36 (1908).
1623 Arlington Hotel v. Fant, 278 U.S. 439 (1929).
1624 James v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 143 (1937).
1625 Collins v. Yosemite Park Co., 304 U.S. 518, 530 (1938).
1626 Id., 528.
1627 Battle v. United States, 209 U.S. 36 (1908); Johnson v. Yellow Cab Co., 321 U.S. 383 (1944); Bowen v. Johnston, 306 U.S. 19 (1939).
1628 Surplus Trading Co. v. Cook, 281 U.S. 647 (1930).
1629 Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Chiles, 214 U.S. 274 (1909); Arlington Hotel v. Fant, 278 U.S. 439 (1929); Pacific Coast Dairy v. Department of Agriculture, 318 U.S. 285 (1943). The Assimilative Crimes Act of 1948, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 13 , making applicable to a federal enclave a subsequently enacted criminal law of the State in which the enclave is situated entails no invalid delegation of legislative power to the State. United States v. Sharpnack, 355 U.S. 286, 294, 296–297 (1958).
1630 Chicago, R. I. & P. Ry. Co. v. McGlinn, 114 U.S. 542, 545 (1885); Stewart & Co. v. Sadrakula, 309 U.S. 94 (1940).
1631 Howard v. Commissioners, 344 U.S. 624 (1953). As Howard recognized, such areas of federal property do not cease to be part of the State in which they are located and the residents of the areas are for most purposes residents of the State. Thus, a State may not constitutionally exclude such residents from the privileges of suffrage if they are otherwise qualified. Evans v. Cornman, 398 U.S. 419 (1970).
1632 Palmer v. Barrett, 162 U.S. 399 (1896).
1633 United States v. Unzeuta, 281 U.S. 138 (1930).
1634 Benson v. United States, 146 U.S. 325, 331 (1892).
1635 Palmer v. Barrett, 162 U.S. 399 (1896).
1636 S.R.A., Inc. v. Minnesota, 327 U.S. 558, 564 (1946).
1637 Id., 570, 571.
1638 Fort Leavenworth R.R. Co. v. Lowe, 114 U.S. 525, 532 (1885); United States v. Unzeuta, 281 U.S. 138, 142 (1930); Surplus Trading Co. v. Cook, 281 U.S. 647, 652 (1930).
1639 United States v. Cornell, 25 Fed. Cas. 646, 649 (No. 14,867) (C.C.D.R.I. 1819).
1640 James v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 145 (1937).
1641 Mason Co. v. Tax Comm. 302 U.S. 186 (1937). See also Atkinson v. Tax Comm., 303 U.S. 20 (1938).
1642 4 Wheat. (17 U.S.) 316 (1819).
1643 Id., 420. This decision had been clearly foreshadowed fourteen years earlier by Marshall’s opinion in United States v. Fisher, 2 Cr. (6 U.S.) 358, 396 (1805). Upholding an act which gave priority to claims of the United States against the estate of a bankrupt he wrote: “The government is to pay the debt of the Union, and must be authorized to use the means which appear to itself most eligible to effect that object. It has, consequently, a right to make remittance, by bills or otherwise, and to take those precautions which will render the transaction safe.”
1644 Supra, pp. 73–89.
1645 Neely v. Henkel, 180 U.S. 109, 121 (1901). See also Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920).
1646 Supra, pp. 165–167, 203–209.
1647 Murray’s Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co., 18 How. ( 59U.S.272,281 (1856).
1648 Kohl v. United States, 91 U.S. 367, 373 (1876); United States v. Fox, 94 U.S. 315, 320 (1877).
1649 Supra., pp. 144–159.
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