In addition to the enumerated powers expressly given to Congress, the Constitution contains implied powers, most notably the General Welfare Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 1), the Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 17), investigative power (derived from Article I, Section 1), and the enforcement clauses of the Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments. Congress has used those implied powers and one of the vaguely worded enumerated powers—the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3)—to expand its lawmaking capability and oversight of the executive. Other parts of the Constitution seek to limit Congress’ power. Exclusive powers found in the vesting clauses for each branch—Congress (Article I, Section 1), the Executive (Article II, Section 1), and the Judiciary (Article III, Section 1)—are part of the checks and balances that make clear the boundaries of each branch from the others. The Constitution also prohibits Congress from enacting laws that might encroach on individual rights or state powers. Article I, Section 9 specifies limits on congressional power in relation to individuals, states, and with respect to the privileges of members of Congress.
This module reviews the implied and expansive powers of Congress, as well as the constitutional provisions that limit Congress’ power. Unlike most enumerated powers, which were directed toward specific objects, the implied powers were open to interpretation. Like debates over the enumerated powers, the main differences in opinion between the Federalists and Antifederalists over implied and expansive powers dealt with the balance of power between Congress and the states. The exercise of those powers would depend on members of Congress and the Supreme Court. The limitations on Congress’ power over states and individuals were not fully articulated until the states ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791.