When they began designing the new government, the framers of the U.S. Constitution considered what they viewed as the tyranny experienced by the former colonists. To eliminate the temptation for a new national government to usurp the authority of the states and the people, they wrote the division of those powers into the Constitution. The best-known powers are the delegated, reserved and concurrent, but the document also includes listings of denied powers and provides for unforeseen needs with implied powers.
Powers Delegated to the Federal Government
Delegated powers are those specifically assigned to the national government. Also known as enumerated powers, the list of the expressed powers is in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Some of the exclusive powers include coining money, making treaties, regulating interstate and international commerce and maintaining a postal system.
Powers Reserved to the States
The 10th Amendment reserves all powers not specifically assigned to the national government for the states, other than powers denied to state governments. This amendment first allowed the states to adopt their own constitutions, although later amendments, including the 14th through 16th, 19th, 24th and 26th, have reduced some of the authority of the states. The authority to establish schools and the responsibility for conducting elections are examples of reserved powers.
Powers Shared by Federal and State Governments
Concurrent, or shared, powers belong to both of the top levels of government. The authority to maintain a system of courts and the power to borrow money are examples of concurrent powers, along with taxation and law enforcement.
Powers Denied to Federal or to State Governments
Article 1, Sections 9 and 10 of the Constitution clearly delineate what either government may not do. For example, the federal government may not impose taxes on states' exports, nor may they confer titles of nobility on anyone. State governments may not coin money or make foreign treaties or alliances.
Powers Implied for Government
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress "…to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers…." Also known as the "elastic clause," this allows the Constitution to remain a living document, able to meet the needs of the people and of the government in situations the framers could not have imagined. Historical uses of this clause to justify governmental powers not expressly discussed in the Constitution include McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), in which the Supreme Court ruled that establishing a national bank was permissible, as it was "necessary and proper" so the government could carry out its responsibility for coining money. In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the Supreme Court stated that the government could regulate railroads and highways under its power to regulate interstate commerce.
- The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts: Federalism & the Constitution
- Regents Prep: Federalism in U.S. Government
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: U.S. Constitution -- Article I
- Exploring Constitutional Conflicts: The Reach of Congressional Power: Introduction and the "Necessary and Proper Clause"
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: U.S. Constitution -- Tenth Amendment