Introduction to Congress 14

The following is an extract from Lesson 3 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get all of the lessons here:

Over the next several weeks, you will learn what Congress must do, can do, and cannot do within the system of checks and balances summarized in Lesson 2. You will also learn two ways that congressional powers have changed over time.

Getting the allocation of powers right can make all the difference between a system of government that prioritizes justice, happiness, and liberty (as in the Preamble to the Constitution) versus an autocracy set up to serve a few powerful families or military leaders.

Last week, we covered what Congress must do. This week, we summarize enumerated and denied powers.

B. What Congress Can Do is Limited

The framers were careful to limit the power of the federal government by setting out lists of powers that Congress does and does not have. The powers assigned to Congress are often referred to as the enumerated powers. Those Congress does not have are sometimes referred to as powers denied.

The enumerated and denied powers have been modified by the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) and many of the amendments that followed.

Here are some important examples of what Congress can and cannot do.

Public services: Congress shall provide for our defense against external and internal threats. It may encourage commerce in specific ways, such as by building post offices and roads. It may regulate commerce between the states and with other countries. Congress may tax and spend to provide these any other public services it may have created.

Civil liberties: Congress may not make laws that infringe on certain civil liberties. Among these are the liberties to vote, to worship as we please without government direction, to speak, to assemble, to publish in the press (media), to own property, and live free from enslavement. Many civil rights have also been established with the intention of reducing discrimination in the application of these liberties to all U.S. citizens.

If you want to see the full lists of enumerated and denied powers, click on this link and go to Part B of Lesson 3. It is worth a look. At a minimum, it should give you an idea of how the Constitution empowers and limits Congress.

See our other topics here: and our glossary here:

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