"Necessary And Proper" Clause of the Constitution

Congress shall have the Power… To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the powers that were mentioned earlier in Article 1, Section 8foregoing Powers, and all other Powers givenvested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The Necessary and Proper subsection (smaller than a Section in the Constitution)Clause comes at the end Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. The earlier part of the section consists of a list of powers given to Congress. The items on the list range from the specific (“To establish Post Offices and post Roads”) to the general (“to…provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”) The Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress the ability to exercise these powers by passing relevant laws.

The Necessary and Proper Clause was a major source of controversy during the debates over ratification. Opponents of ratification worried that the powers it gave Congress were too extensive, especially when the clause was combined with vague powers such as to “provide for the…general welfare.” Congress could pass practically any law it wanted to and worry about justifying it as “necessary and proper” later.1 For instance, critics of the proposed Constitution argued that the Necessary and Proper Clause, together with the taxing power given to Congress by Article 1, Section 8, would allow the federal government abuse its taxing power. The dissenters in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention went so far as to say that “Congress may monopolise every source of money that could be used to pay taxesrevenue and thus indirectly demolish the state governments, for without funds they could not exist…”2 As this argument illustrates, concerns about the Necessary and Proper Clause were part of the more general fears of opponents of ratification that the federal government would overpower the state governments.

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