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ArtI.1 Overview of Article I, Legislative Branch

Article I of the U.S. Constitution establishes the Legislative Branch of the federal government. Section 1, the Legislative Vesting Clause, provides that all federal legislative powers are vested in the Congress.1 As the Supreme Court stated in 1810, “[i]t is the peculiar province of the legislature to prescribe general rules for the government of society.” 2 One influential legal scholar in 1826 described “[t]he power of making laws” as “the supreme power in a state.” 3 As discussed elsewhere, however, the Founders limited Congress’s power by only vesting the legislative powers “herein granted” by the Constitution, by creating a bicameral legislature, and by creating checks in the other branches.4

Section 2 of Article I outlines the makeup and certain unique powers of the House of Representatives, and Section 3 does the same for the Senate. Sections 4 through 6 address procedural matters common to the two Houses, including elections, assembly and adjournment, legislative procedures, and certain privileges and limitations on Members.

As mentioned, the Constitution does not grant Congress “plenary legislative power but only certain enumerated powers.” 5 Sections 7 and 8 outline the exercise of those enumerated powers. Section 7 addresses the procedures for enacting legislation, including special provisions for bills raising revenue, and the general requirements of bicameralism and presentment—the need for a bill to pass both Houses of Congress and be presented to the President for signature.6 Section 8 enumerates Congress’s specific legislative authorities, including the power to tax and spend, to borrow money, to regulate interstate commerce, to establish uniform rules on naturalization and bankruptcy, to coin money, to punish counterfeiters, to establish post offices, to regulate intellectual property, to establish courts, to punish maritime crimes, to declare war, to raise and support armies, to govern enclaves, and to make other laws “necessary and proper” for executing these enumerated powers.

Section 9 denies certain powers to Congress, including by restricting the slave trade; generally denying the ability to suspend the writ of habeas corpus; prohibiting bills of attainder and ex post facto laws; restricting direct taxes, export taxes, and appropriations; prohibiting ports preferences; and prohibiting titles of nobility and foreign emoluments. Section 10 denies certain powers to the states, including by preventing states from entering into treaties, issuing bills of credit or coining money; prohibiting bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, or laws impairing the obligations of contracts; and by restricting states’ ability to impose duties on imports or exports. Section 10 also provides that states may not take certain actions without Congress’s consent, including laying duties of tonnage, keeping troops or engaging in war, or entering into compacts with other states or foreign powers.

See ArtI.S1.1 Overview of Legislative Vesting Clause. back
Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 87, 136 (1810). back
1 James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (1826), back
See ArtI.S1.2.1 Origin of Limits on Federal Power; ArtI.S1.2.2 Origin of a Bicameral Congress. back
Murphy v. NCAA, No. 16-476, slip op. at 15 (U.S. May 14, 2018). back
ArtI.S7.C2.1 Overview of Presidential Approval or Veto of Bills. back