LAWS enacted by congress form the third rule of obligation.
The power of legislation vested in congress, is conformable to the high objects of its formation, some of which are expressly enumerated, and some included in the extensive authority to provide for the common defence and general welfare; but this broad declaration has been considered by some as restrained by an amendment which has since become a part of the Constitution to the following effect: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively or to the people.
The question is not completely settled by this article. "The nature of a constitution requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients, which compose those objects, be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves. If it contained an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, it would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and rather tend to embarrass than to elucidate. Whether any particular power is delegated to the general government or prohibited to the states, must depend on a fair construction of the whole instrument." 1 The amendment does not speak of powers expressly delegated, and is in fact to be, considered rather in the light of a cautious and special reservation of what is not granted, conceived in terms as general as the grant itself but whatever is already granted, either generally or by express words, is not intended to be abridged, and therefore, in effect, this clause has no operation on the grant itself.
In a variety of instances, the legislative power is not left to depend on general inferences. Express enumeration removes the difficulty as to the subject, and it is only in respect to what may be termed the excess of practical legislation, beyond the subject expressed, that any doubt can arise.
The style and composition of statutes in modern times, have frequently been complained of; it has been observed that they sometimes obscure the sense by a multiplicity of words intended to produce the opposite effect, and the brevity and simplicity of ancient times have been held up as examples to be followed. But perhaps the peculiar character of our government may justify more minuteness in its legislative acts, than in those of a government not under similar limitations. Although verboseness, productive of perplexity, should be scrupulously avoided, yet the enactments of a law framed under a limited authority, should clearly appear to be confined to that authority, and as little as possible be left for general construction. The acts hitherto passed by congress have not often created doubts as to their true meaning.
1. See McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wh. 316. Anderson v. Dunn, 6 Wh. 225.
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