Most Congressional bills overstep constitutional limits
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 15:09
Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution outlines a select few powers that Congress has, known as the enumerated powers. The 10th Amendment states all powers not explicitly given to Congress belong to the individual states or the people. Therefore, we can conclude that Congress may not do anything that is not an enumerated power.
Unfortunately, the majority of legislation Congress passes is not authorized by any of the enumerated powers. Many people are unaware that these laws should be considered unconstitutional. Others simply do not care. These Congressional actions must stop. The federal government should resume the limited role it had in the early days of our country and start following the constitution again.
The enumerated powers are (to paraphrase) taxes, borrowing money, regulating interstate and international commerce, establishing citizenship and bankruptcy laws, coining money, punishing those who counterfeit currency, creating post offices, making patent laws, establishing federal courts, controlling US waters, declaring war, maintaining and regulating armies and navies, controlling the District of Columbia and creating laws to enforce the aforementioned powers. Any Congressional legislation that does not fall under one of those categories is unconstitutional. Sadly, this is almost everything Congress passes.
Drawing a sample from bills passed in just the last few months, many of them are clearly not authorized by Article I, Section 8. For instance, H.R. 1092, which became law on Aug. 9, names a federally operated air traffic control center after Patricia Clark. While it may not seem improper for Congress to designate names for federally operated locations, one needs to consider why the federal government is operating air traffic control centers in the first place.
Although Article I, Section 8 does give Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, which includes air travel, it does not give Congress monopoly control over any interstate commerce industries. Regulation means passing laws to control what an industry can and can’t do. It does not mean exclusive control over that industry.
While Congress would have the authority to pass laws governing air traffic control, it does not have the Constitutional authority to actually operate the air traffic control centers themselves. That should be left up to private industries, such as the airlines, the airports, and the areas they fly over. How to best handle that would be up to the airline industry and is beyond the scope of this article. Regardless, Congress does not have the authority to monopolize air traffic control, and H.R. 1092 is unconstitutional.
Even many seemingly trivial bills are unconstitutional. For instance, in April 2010, the House passed H.R. 1239 to “commend the University of Connecticut Huskies for their historic win in the 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.” I’m as big a fan of UConn athletics as anyone here, but nowhere in Article I, Section 8 does it say Congress has the power to congratulate a college basketball team, nor anything remotely resembling that.
Most UConn students and alumni, if and when they heard about this legislation, appreciated the fact that Congress was recognizing their beloved Huskies on their championship. However, very few knew that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to pass this legislation, and even among those, not all of them cared.
Of course, there is no need to take action against the bill’s sponsor, Joe Courtney, as it was a minor bill that would have had absolutely no effect. However, it is symptomatic of a larger problem, which is that very few people ever bother to question which enumerated power Congress is using to pass a piece of legislation. Most unconstitutional bills have far more impact than simply congratulating a basketball team. The War on Drugs, federally imposed education mandates and laws prohibiting online gambling all have a major impact on many people’s lives and use significant tax money, meaning everyone is affected. Under a strict interpretation of the Constitution, these programs are mostly or entirely unconstitutional.
However, Congress has significantly overextended its authority over the last 150 years or so, and continues to stretch their power further and further. This practice is unconstitutional and must end immediately. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court refuses to enforce the Constitution as supreme law of the land, even though it is. We pride ourselves on having the longest lasting constitution in the world, yet we do not follow it, defeating the purpose of having one. This needs to end. America must return to following the constitution and significantly reduce Congressional power.