Introduction to Congress 16

Introduction to Congress 16

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 provided a list of enumerated powers. This week, we cover denied powers.

2. Denied Powers

What Congress cannot do is set out in Article I, Section 9, portions of the Bill of Rights,and subsequent amendments.

Under Article I, Section 9, Congress is prohibited from:

  • Suspending Habeas Corpus[1] unless there is a rebellion or invasion
  • Punishing an action that at the time was legal but later became illegal
  • Establishing taxes on people and land that are not established on a per-capita basis (this prohibition was superseded by the 16th Amendment in 1913)
  • Taxing exports from a state
  • Favoring some states over others when regulating ports and port revenues
  • Drawing money from the Treasury without a law
  • Granting any titles of nobility

Next week, we will cover a special form of denied powers, the so-called negative rights contained in the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution.

See our other topics here: and our glossary here:

[1] Habeas Corpus Law says people cannot be detained without first being brought before a court to establish whether or not it is legal to hold them in detention.

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