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ArtI.S9.C7.1 Overview of Appropriations Clause

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7:

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

The Appropriations Clause establishes a rule of law to govern money contained in “the Treasury,” which is a term that describes a place where public revenue is deposited and kept and from which payments are made to cover public expenses.1 As the Supreme Court has explained, that rule of law directs “that no money can be paid out of the Treasury unless it has been appropriated by an act of Congress.” 2 The Clause has roots in the practice of English parliaments, dating from at least the 1690s, of legislating both the means of raising public revenue and also dedicating, or appropriating, newly raised sums to particular purposes. State constitutions adopted after Independence continued this practice, in most instances expressly identifying an appropriation as a necessity for drawing funds from a state treasury. The proposition that a legislature should control the disbursement of public funds appears to have become so firmly rooted by the late 1780s that the Appropriations Clause itself attracted relatively little debate either in the Constitutional Convention where it was drafted or in the state conventions where it was ratified.3

Strictly speaking, the Appropriations Clause does not confer a distinct legislative power upon Congress, on the order of those powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8. Instead, the Clause is phrased as a limitation on government action.4 Thus, the Supreme Court’s cases explain that any exercise of a power granted by the Constitution to the Judiciary or to the Executive is “limited by a valid reservation of congressional control over funds in the Treasury.” 5 For instance, the Court has held federal courts may not enter, and Executive Branch officials may not pay, money judgments against the United States for which there is no appropriation. However, the Court’s cases also explain that Congress may not dictate that funds are available subject to a limitation that is itself unconstitutional. The Court has thus disregarded a funding limitation enacted by Congress because the limitation constituted, for example, a Bill of Attainder.6

See Treasury, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019); see also Samuel Johnson, Treasury, A Dictionary of the English Language (10th ed. 1792) ( “A place in which riches are accumulated.” ); see also United States v. Bank of Metropolis, 40 U.S. 377, 403 (1841) (describing the “Treasury of the United States” as the place “where its money is directed by law to be kept” ). back
Cincinnati Soap Co. v. United States, 301 U.S. 308, 321 (1937). back
See ArtI.S9.C7.2 Historical Background on Appropriations Clause. back
Compare, e.g., U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 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.” ), with id art. I, § 9, cl. 7 ( “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” ). back
Off. of Pers. Mgmt. v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414, 425 (1990). back
See ArtI.S9.C7.3 Appropriations Clause Generally. back