The Implied Powers of Congress

Updated February 19, 2021 | Infoplease Staff

The inherent powers of the U.S. Congress

The expressed powers of Congress are listed in Article I of the U.S. Constitution (since they're listed out, they're also called the enumerated powers). Congress also has implied powers, which are based on the necessary and proper clause, or elastic clause. This is a provision in the Constitution which gives Congress right to make any laws needed to carry out their expressed powers. Congressional power has grown over several centuries, bolstered by Supreme Court decisions


The Constitution gives expressed powers to Congress in Article 1, Section 8.

1803 Marbury v. Madison establishes the idea that the judiciary can review laws for their adherence to the constitution. The judicial power of review is what gives federal courts the ability to constitutionally strike down laws in court cases.

In McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall holds that the powers to tax, borrow, and coin money give Congress the implied power to establish a national bank. The First Bank of the United States under Alexander Hamilton had closed; the opening of a second bank was challenged on grounds of constitutionality.


Gibbons v. Ogden is the first commerce clause case to reach the Supreme Court. The powers of Congress are expanded, as part of their ability to regulate interstate commerce; this includes regulations on transit, shipping, industry, and more. This is another important case overseen by Justice Marshall.


The U.S. government issues its first legal tender notes, which are popularly called greenbacks.


In Hepburn v. Griswold the Supreme Court rules that the Constitution does not authorize the printing of paper money.

The Court reverses its position on the printing of paper money and holds that issuing paper money is a proper use of the currency power in the Legal Tender cases. The decision in Juliard v. Greenman (1884) reaffirms this holding.


The Sherman Antitrust Act, based on the commerce power, regulates monopolies and other practices that limit competition.


The Wagner Act, based on the commerce power, recognizes labor's right to bargain collectively.

The Social Security Act is passed.


The Supreme Court upholds the Social Security Act of 1935 as a proper exercise of the powers to tax and provide for the general welfare in Steward Machine Co. v. Davis and Helvering v. Davis.


The Interstate and National Highway Act, based on the commerce and war powers, provides for a national interstate highway system.


The Supreme Court holds the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a valid exercise of the commerce power in Heart of Atlanta v. United States.


Congress amends the Social Security Act of 1935 to create Medicare, which covers hospital and other health-care costs of the elderly.


With the War Powers Resolution of 1973, Congress claims the right to restrict the use of American forces in combat when a state of war does not exist.


The Americans with Disabilities Act, based on the commerce power, prohibits discrimination against the physically impaired.


In United States v. Lopez, the Court strikes down the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990 on the grounds that the federal government invades reserved powers of the states with this legislation.

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