OF LAWS ENACTED BY CONGRESS.
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
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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