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ArtI.S8.1 Overview of Congress's Enumerated Powers

As discussed in more detail in earlier essays, the Framers sought to limit the legislative power only to those powers granted by the Constitution.1 Section 8 of Article 1 sets out the bulk of Congress’s enumerated legislative authorities. Congress’s most significant powers, in terms of the breadth of authority, may be its “power of the purse,” 2 referring to its authority to tax and spend3 and its power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.4 Section 8 also defines a number of more specific powers. For example, it gives Congress authority to establish uniform laws on naturalization and bankruptcy,5 establish post offices6 and courts,7 regulate intellectual property,8 and punish maritime crimes.9 Further, although the President is the Commander in Chief,10 Section 8 also grants Congress certain war powers, including the power to declare war,11 to raise and maintain armies and a navy,12 and to call forth the militia for certain purposes.13 Apart from these specific powers, Section 8 also provides that Congress may “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers” and other express constitutional powers.14 This Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress discretion over the means it chooses to execute its enumerated powers, so long as the goal is “legitimate” and the means “appropriate.” 15

ArtI.S1.2.1 Origin of Limits on Federal Power; ArtI.S1.3.3 Enumerated, Implied, Resulting, and Inherent Powers. back
See, e.g., United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 178 n.11 (1974) (discussing Congress’s power of the purse). back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 1. back
Id. cl. 3. back
Id. cl. 4. back
Id. cl. 7. back
Id. cl. 9. back
Id. cl. 8. back
Id. cl. 10. back
U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 1. back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 11. back
Id. cls. 12–13. back
Id. cl. 15. back
Id. cl. 18. back
United States v. Kebodeaux, 570 U.S. 387, 394 (2013); McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 421 (1819). back