CRS Annotated Constitution

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Definition of Punishment and Crimes

Although the only crimes which Congress is expressly authorized to punish are piracies, felonies on the high seas, offenses against the law of nations, treason and counterfeiting of the securities and current coin of the United States, its power to create, define, and punish crimes and offenses whenever necessary to effectuate the objects of the Federal Government is universally conceded.1650 Illustrative of the offenses which have been punished under this power are the alteration of registered bonds,1651 the bringing of counterfeit bonds into the country,1652 conspiracy to injure prisoners in custody of a United States marshal,1653 impersonation of a federal officer with intent to defraud,1654 conspiracy to injure a citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States,1655 the receipt by Government officials of contributions from Government employees for political purposes,1656 advocating the overthrow of the Government by force.1657 Part I of Title 18 of the United States Code comprises more than 500 sections defining penal offenses against the United States.1658

Chartering of Banks

As an appropriate means for executing “the great powers, to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; to declare and conduct a war; and to raise and support armies . . . ,” Congress may incorporate banks and kindred institutions.1659 [p.342]Moreover, it may confer upon them private powers, which, standing alone, have no relation to the functions of the Federal Government, if those privileges are essential to the effective operation of such corporations.1660 Where necessary to meet the competition of state banks, Congress may authorize national banks to perform fiduciary functions, even though, apart from the competitive situation, federal instrumentalities might not be permitted to engage in such business.1661 The Court will not undertake to assess the relative importance of the public and private functions of a financial institution Congress has seen fit to create. It sustained the act setting up the Federal Farm Loan Banks to provide funds for mortgage loans on agricultural land against the contention that the right of the Secretary of the Treasury, which he had not exercised, to use these banks as depositories of public funds, was merely a pretext for chartering those banks for private purposes.1662

Currency Regulations

Reinforced by the necessary and proper clause, the powers “‘to lay and collect taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,’ and ‘to borrow money on the credit of the United States and to coin money and regulate the value thereon . . . ,”’1663 have been held to give Congress virtually complete control over money and currency. A prohibitive tax on the notes of state banks,1664 the issuance of treasury notes impressed with the quality of legal tender in payment of private debts1665 and the abrogation of clauses in private contracts, which called for payment in gold coin,1666 were sustained as appropriate measures for carrying into effect some or all of the foregoing powers.

Power to Charter Corporations

In addition to the creation of banks, Congress has been held to have authority to charter a railroad corporation,1667 or a corporation to construct an interstate bridge,1668 as instrumentalities[p.343]for promoting commerce among the States, and to create corporations to manufacture aircraft1669 or merchant vessels1670 as incidental to the war power.

Courts and Judicial Proceedings

Inasmuch as the Constitution “delineated only the great outlines of the judicial power . . . , leaving the details to Congress, . . . [t]he distribution and appropriate exercise of the judicial power must . . . be made by laws passed by Congress. . . .”1671 As a necessary and proper provision for the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred by Article III, Sec. 2, Congress may direct the removal from a state to a federal court of a criminal prosecution against a federal officer for acts done under color of federal law,1672 and may authorize the removal before trial of civil cases arising under the laws of the United States.1673 It may prescribe the effect to be given to judicial proceedings of the federal courts1674 and may make all laws necessary for carrying into execution the judgments of federal courts.1675 When a territory is admitted as a State, Congress may designate the court to which the records of the territorial courts shall be transferred and may prescribe the mode for enforcement and review of judgments rendered by those courts.1676 In the exercise of other powers conferred by the Constitution, apart from Article III, Congress may create legislative courts and “clothe them with functions deemed essential or helpful in carrying those powers into execution.”1677


1650 United States v. Fox, 95 U.S. 670, 672 (1978); United States v. Hall, 98 U.S. 343, 357 (1879); United States v. Worrall, 2 Dall. (2 U.S.) 384, 394 (1798); McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. (17 U.S.) 316 (1819). That this power has been freely exercised is attested by the pages of the United States Code devoted to Title 18, entitled “Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure.” In addition numerous regulatory measures prescribe criminal penalties for infractions thereof.
1651 Ex parte Carll, 106 U.S. 521 (1883).
1652 United States v. Marigold, 9 How. (50 U.S.) 560, 567 (1850).
1653 Logan v. United States, 144 U.S. 263 (1892).
1654 United States v. Barnow, 239 U.S. 74 (1915).
1655 Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651 (1884); United States v. Waddell, 112 U.S. 76 (1884); In re Quarles and Butler, 158 U.S. 532, 537 (1895); Motes v. United States, 178 U.S. 458, (1900); United States v. Mosley, 238 U.S. 383 (1915). See also Rakes v. United States, 212 U.S. 55 (1909).
1656 Ex parte Curtis, 106 U.S. 371 (1882).
1657 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2385 .
1658 See National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws, Final Report (Washington: 1970); National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws, Working Papers (Washington: 1970), 2 vols.
1659 McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. (17 U.S.) 316, 407 (1819).
1660 Osborn v. United States Bank, 9 Wheat. (22 U.S.) 738, 862 (1824). See also Pittman v. Home Owners’ Corp., 308 U.S. 21 (1939).
1661 First National Bank v. Follows ex rel. Union Trust Co., 244 U.S. 416 (1917); Missouri ex rel. Burnes National Bank v. Duncan, 265 U.S. 17 (1924).
1662 Smith v. Kansas City Title Co., 255 U.S. 180 (1921).
1663 Legal Tender Cases (Julliard v. Greenman), 110 U.S. 421, 449 (1884).
1664 Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 8 Wall. (75 U.S.) 533 (1869).
1665 Legal Tender Cases (Julliard v. Greenman), 110 U.S. 421 (1884). See also Legal Tender Cases (Knox v. Lee), 12 Wall. (79 U.S.) 457 (1871).
1666 Norman v. B. & O. R. Co., 294 U.S. 240, 303 (1935).
1667 Pacific Railroad Removal Cases, 115 U.S. 1 (1885); California v. Pacific Railroad Company, 127 U.S. 1, 39 (1888).
1668 Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 153 U.S. 525 (1894).
1669 Clallam County v. United States, 263 U.S. 341 (1923).
1670 Sloan Shipyards v. United States Fleet Corp., 258 U.S. 549 (1922).
1671 Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 12 Pet. (37 U.S.) 657, 721 (1838).
1672 Tennessee v. Davis, 100 U.S. 257, 263 (1880).
1673 Railway Company v. Whitton, 13 Wall. (80 U.S.) 270, 287 (1872).
1674 Embry v. Palmer, 107 U.S. 3 (1883).
1675 Bank of the United States v. Halstead, 10 Wheat. (23 U.S.) 51, 53 (1825).
1676 Express Company v. Kountze Brothers, 8 Wall. (75 U.S.) 342, 350 (1869).
1677 Ex parte Bakelite Corp., 279 U.S. 438, 449 (1929). But see Northern Pipeline Const. Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982).
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