June 7, 2012

Questionable Constitutional Authority Statement
of the Week

  • Bill: H.R. 401, To authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Muhammad Ali in recognition of his contributions to the Nation
  • Introduced by: Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN)
  • Constitutional Authority Statement:Clause 2 of Section 5 of Article I of the Constitution, Clause 1 of Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution, and Clause 18 of Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution.

Why this is an inadequate explanation: This example exists to prove that the idiom “quality over quantity” applies to attempts at constitutional justification. The statement cites three different potential justifications for the legislation, and neither individually nor as a group do these seriously attempt to justify the proposed action. Most impressively, the bill cites Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2, which reads “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.” As Muhammad Ali is not an elected representative in the House or Senate, it is difficult to imagine that House rules of self governance or procedures for expulsion would concern him.

The other two clauses cited are Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 (granting Congress the power to tax, pay debts, provide for common defense and general welfare of the United States) and the Necessary and Proper Clause (allowing the Congress to make all laws ‘necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution’). It is difficult to see how either of these clauses are relevant to the legislation. It is possible that the intent was to thoroughly combine the three clauses; however, unless granting Muhammad Ali a gold medal is both necessary and proper for expelling a Member of Congress and for the general Welfare of the United States, this possibility seems unlikely.

How to fix this statement: If there is a belief that one, any, or all of these clauses somehow grant the Congress the power to pass this legislation, then the Representative proposing the law should make an effort to explain why this is the case. As it stands, the lack of a serious justification or explanation undermines the credibility of the bill—and this is for a bill which many Members might not consider controversial. A good statement would choose at least one relevant specific area in the Constitution and explain why, as a result, the Constitution allows Congress to perform the proposed actions.

**Disclaimer: The RSC does not necessarily support or oppose the bills listed in these weekly emails;
rather, the bills are selected strictly based on the structure and seriousness of their Constitutional Authority Statements**

-To read the current House Rule on Constitutional Authority Statements, click here, and find Rule XII, Section 7(c).

-The Heritage Foundation has created an online guide to the Constitution, which provides an explanation and discussion of every clause. To see this online guide, go here.

-To see previous “Questionable Constitutional Authority Statements,” as well as advice for drafting your office’s Constitutional Authority Statements, go here.

RSC Staff Contacts for these weekly emails:  Rick.Eberstadt@mail.house.gov and Paul.Teller@mail.house.gov.