Giving Power to Congress

Would it be necessary and proper for Congress to mandate a national nap time? Probably not, but we wouldn't mind it.

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Transcript

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...or Sauron.

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So when our Constitution was written and our union formed...

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...our founding fathers gave a lot of thought as to the power they would be giving to Congress.

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Because no one wanted to wind up with a Mount Doom situation on their hands.

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There are two basic types of powers that were granted to Congress -- enumerated and implied.

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Enumerated powers were those that were directly stated, while implied powers were more, well... implied.

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Congress' implied powers are stated in the "Necessary and Proper Clause" of the Constitution...

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...where it says that Congress has the power "to make all Laws which shall be necessary

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and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested

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by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or

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Officer thereof."

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Whew. Those boys sure did like their long sentences, didn't they?

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Essentially, they were giving Congress a bit of wiggle room. If there were certain laws

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they deemed "necessary and proper" in order to carry out their other Constitutional

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rights, they could enact them.

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It would be like if your parents had asked you to babysit your baby brother, and they

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gave you the right to deny him dessert after dinner.

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While it wasn't implicitly stated, if your brother did reach for a slice of cake anyway,

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you might deem it "necessary and proper" to tie him to the couch with bungee cord.

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Isn't wiggle room swell?

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Okay, those are the implied powers... what about enumerated powers?

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You got it. Here's the shortlist of the rights Congress was given by the Constitution

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in Article 1, Section 8:

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They were granted permission to borrow money for the United States...

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...create and collect taxes, as long as those taxes are imposed equally from state to state...

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...impose restrictions on commerce...

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...establish a Post Office...

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...declare war...

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...maintain a Navy and provide supplies for them...

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...manage, train, and arm a militia...

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...and identify and enforce crimes at sea.

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So, as you can see, they had their fingers in quite a few pies.

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Which you could probably tell just by looking at most of them.

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But, despite all that power, Congress was not given complete control...

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...thanks to Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution...

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...which laid out a handful of laws Congress could not make.

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Congress was specifically forbidden from controlling immigration... until 1808, anyway.

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...forbidden from passing any ex post facto laws, meaning laws that could result in the

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arrest of a person who committed an illegal act... back before it was made illegal...

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...and forbidden... for the most part... from suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which

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states that a person needs an arrest warrant to be taken into custody.

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They were also forbidden from hogging the Congressional Playstation, but

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that was more of a verbal thing.

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Sounds like Congress' do's and don'ts are pretty clearly defined, right?

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Eh, not so much. Unfortunately, language can always be interpreted in various ways.

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Strict constructionists argue that Congress should interpret the Constitution very literally

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and narrowly... in other words, they only have the powers explicitly stated in the Constitution.

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Broad constructionists are on the flip side of the coin. They say that, because the Constitution

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grants Congress implied powers, we should focus more on the intent of the Constitution.

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For example, the internet wasn't around in the 1700s, but does that mean Congress

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shouldn't have any power to regulate it?

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Broad constructionists would argue it's implied that Congress should be able to make

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laws concerning the internet. Even if there is no specific "Google Clause" in the

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original doc.

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So basically, Congress' powers depend on what your definition of "necessary and proper" is.

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Sadly, no matter what your viewpoint...

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...today's Congress lacks the one power that arguably supersedes all others...

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...the power to get anything done.