ArtI.S8.C1.2.4 Modern Spending Clause Jurisprudence Generally

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1:

The Congress shall have Power 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; . . .

The Supreme Court’s early Spending Clause case law culminated, in 1937, with an embrace of a relatively expansive view of Congress’s power to tax and spend in aid of the general welfare. That same expansive view permeates the Court’s modern Spending Clause case law. The Court has repeatedly stated that, by allocating federal funds and attaching conditions to those funds,1 Congress may pursue broad policy objectives.2 Congress may even achieve policy outcomes that it could not directly legislate using its other enumerated powers.3

Much of the Court’s modern Spending Clause jurisprudence has focused on what the Court has termed “restrictions” 4 or “limits” 5 on the spending power. The Court today judges the constitutional validity of federal spending using five factors. First, Congress must unambiguously identify conditions attached to federal funds. Second, Congress must refrain from offers of funds that coerce acceptance of funding conditions. Third, spending must be in pursuit of the general welfare. Fourth, conditions on federal funds must relate to the federal interest in a program. Finally, a funding condition may not induce conduct on the part of the funds recipient that is itself unconstitutional.

The Court has stated that Congress’s authority to attach conditions to federal funds derives, in part, from the Necessary and Proper Clause. See Sabri v. United States, 541 U.S. 600, 605 (2004); see also ArtI.S8.C18.1 Overview of Necessary and Proper Clause. back
Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., 142 S. Ct. 1562, 1568 (2022); Agency for Int’l Dev. v. All. for Open Soc’y Int’l, Inc., 570 U.S. 205, 213 (2013); Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291, 296 (2006); South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 206–07 (1987); Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 474 (1980) (opinion of Burger, C.J.). back
Coll. Sav. Bank v. Fla. Prepaid Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666, 686 (1999); Oklahoma v. U.S. Civ. Serv. Comm’n, 330 U.S. 127, 143 (1947). back
Dole, 483 U.S. at 207. back
Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 17 n.13 (1981). back