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Legislative Powers - Congressional Powers

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One of the intentions of the founders in designing a new constitution was to ensure that the federal government had sufficient power to run the country. The delicate task they faced was that of striking a compromise between federal power and individual and states' rights. One of the strategies the founders employed to maintain this balance was to use ambiguous wording in the various provisions of the document. They realized that they could not possibly anticipate every conflict that would arise over the issue of power. The founders therefore structured government in such a way that competing forces would work against each other to resolve conflicts over power. Although the founders realized that many of the specific conflicts over power would be resolved as they arose, they were forced to define the basic powers of government. The Constitution enumerates, or explicitly defines, the legislative powers granted to the legislative branch in Article I, Section 8. Here Congress is granted the power to tax, regulate commerce, provide a common currency, and raise and support an army and navy. The Constitution also grants Congress the power to enact laws "necessary and proper" to execute its constitutional authority. This is known as the "elastic" or "necessary and proper" clause. It is perhaps the most controversial of the enumerated powers granted to Congress as it renders a subjective range to legislative power.

Apart from the Constitution, the powers of the legislative branch have been defined, in large part, by the Supreme Court. Though it is often presumed that the Constitution granted the Supreme Court the power to review legislative statutes for their constitutionality, the power of "judicial review" was in fact claimed by the Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803). It was here that Chief Justice John Marshall held that it is the power of the Supreme Court to determine whether acts passed by Congress and the president were consistent with the Constitution. The issues that the Supreme Court has been called upon to resolve concerning the parameters of legislative power center around the relationship between Congress and the states, and the relationship between Congress and the president.

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