Putting a Stop to Congressional Overreach

It’s time for the Supreme Court to enforce the Necessary and Proper Clause
Damon W. Root
November 13, 2009

In early September, Fox News host Andrew Napolitano asked Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, precisely what part of the Constitution authorized Congress to enact health care legislation. “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do,” Clyburn replied. “How about [you] show me where in the Constitution it prohibits the federal government from doing this?”

It was a rare flash of honesty from an elected official, revealing not only Clyburn’s ignorance of the Constitution but his overt hostility to the document’s system of checks and balances. And Clyburn is hardly alone. In legislation dealing with everything from crime to education, Congress routinely oversteps its constitutional bounds. As Napolitano later remarked, Clyburn seems “to have conveniently forgotten that the federal government has only specific enumerated powers.”

Later this term, the U.S. Supreme Court will have a great opportunity to remind Clyburn and his colleagues of those limits when it hears oral arguments in the case of U.S. v. Comstock

…Yet as the text itself clearly specifies, any law passed under the Necessary and Proper Clause must also be tied to a specifically enumerated constitutional power, either one of the “foregoing powers” listed in Article I, Sec. 8, or one of the “other powers vested by this Constitution.” As James Madison told the Virginia ratifying convention, the Necessary and Proper Clause “only extended to the enumerated powers. Should Congress attempt to extend it to any power not enumerated, it would not be warranted by the clause.”…

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