"This government is acknowledged by all, to be one of enumerated powers."
— Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland
"We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers."
— Chief Justice William Rehnquist in United States v. Lopez
Nearly all of the specific, "enumerated" Legislative Powers of Congress are spelled out in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. By our count, there are twenty listed in Article I, Section 8, plus two others found in other parts of the Constitution. You can read the list for yourself on our Background Page.
Because these powers are delegated from the people, they are the only Legislative Powers Congress has. But our Founding Fathers went further – trying hard to make enumerated powers so obvious that even a politician couldn't miss the point. They passed the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to shut the door to claims of additional power . . .
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
And it is the tradition of Congress, for each member, upon the start of their terms of office, to take an oath, promising to protect and uphold the Constitution. Yet virtually every day that Congress is in session these same oath-takers become law-breakers -- passing laws and expending funds on items that are not Constitutionally permissible.
Over the years they've used the Necessary & Proper Clause, the Commerce Clause, and Supreme Court penumbras to give themselves powers the Constitution doesn't permit. IN FACT, MOST OF WHAT THEY DO THESE DAYS IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. If they had been abiding by their enumerated powers, the federal government would be much, much, much, much, much, much smaller, and far more decentralized than it is today.
Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) has re-introduced The Enumerated Powers Act (EPA) - HR 450. (You can read the entire bill on our Background Page.) EPA would require Congress to reference the specific clause(s) of the U.S. Constitution that grant them the power to enact laws and take other congressional actions.
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation and foreign commerce."
—James Madison, Federalist No. 45
So what difference will it make if we require them to cite "chapter and verse" the section of the Constitution that gives them authority to pass a law, create or maintain a program, or impose a tax?
But we freely admit, this new law won't stop them.
We believe the real power of this requirement is that it would, over time, build the evidence necessary to make some real reforms. After all, how many different, un-constitutional actions per day can they blame on the Commerce Clause before a judge rules or a reforming group stands up and says, "This is a hole large enough to drive a fleet of trucks through; let's tighten it up!"
EPA might even, eventually, embarrass Congress. As Walter Williams has pointed out, "Congressmen, openly refusing to live up to their oath of office, exhibit their deep contempt for our Constitution." EPA would expose these politicians because their actions would speak louder than their phony rhetoric.
There's an old Texas legend that says, a young politician by the name of Lyndon Johnson (yes, that Lyndon Johnson), was looking for an edge in his campaign. Johnson suggested to his campaign manager that they start a rumor that his opponent enjoyed sexual congress with pigs.
His campaign manager reacted in shock: "Lyndon you know that's not true."
"Sure," Lyndon is alleged to have replied, "I just want to watch him deny it."
Well, Congress does lots of unconstitutional things. And that's no rumor. Walter Williams is almost certainly right; most members of Congress seem to have "deep contempt for our Constitution."
Now, we just want to see them compelled to deny that charge.
Use the form at right to send your elected representatives a letter about this issue. It's easy!
We provide the first few words of the letter so that Congressional offices will see the most important point right at the start, and so that no one can hijack our system for another purpose. Here's the part we provide . . .