October 25, 2012

Questionable Constitutional Authority Statement
of the Week

  • Bill: H.R. 3437, The Eva M. Clayton Fellows Program Act
  • Introduced by: Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC)
  • Constitutional Authority Statement:

    “Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution, Congress has the power to collect taxes and expend funds to provide for the general welfare of the United States. Congress may also make laws that are necessary and proper for carrying into execution their powers enumerated under Article I.”

Why this is an inadequate explanation: This Constitutional Authority Statement would be fine were it not for the fact that words actually have definitions.

The Third Clause of Article 1, Section 8 (also known as the Commerce Clause) reads: “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” Notably missing from this clause are any mentions at all of taxation or General Welfare. There is no way to skirt around this issue: the first line of this Constitutional Authority Statement has no basis in actual fact and suggests a striking level of Constitutional indifference.

The kindest thing that one can say to defend this statement is that the words “tax” and “general welfare” do actually appear in a different area, Clause 1 rather than Clause 3 of this Section. This is not much of a defense, as many unelected Americans are aware of the difference between the First Clause and Third Clause of Article 1, Section 8. More importantly, though, it is the sworn duty of a Member of Congress to uphold the Constitution of the United States; the sort of carelessness indicated by the statement above undermines the highest duties of elected office. This statement is no more adequate than a Judge’s ruling would be if it began “Today we hold that the law in question violates Amendment 1 of the Constitution. Or Amendment 4. I can’t really remember which one, but you get the idea.” A certain level of seriousness about our highest legal document is expected from those who have sworn to uphold it, and a complete misidentification of a noteworthy clause suggests the opposite.

How to fix this statement: First, the statement could consider a clause or clauses of the Constitution which legitimately grant the Congress authority to pass the law in question. It could then write a statement which cites these clauses and then explains, in its own words, why it believes the Constitution allows the Congress to pass the law in question. Preferably, the statement would cite these clauses correctly, as opposed to incorrectly.

**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.

-Hillsdale College has launched a new resource on the Constitution: The Constitution Online Reader. The site includes many features not in the book, including a 700+ entry timeline of constitutional history, a section of critical debates that are raging still today, and a quotes section that staffers might find helpful.

-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.