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QOTD: Restraints on the ‘General Welfare’ Clause January 5, 2011

Posted by federalist in Federalism.
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The “General Welfare” and “Commerce” Clauses of the U.S. Constitution are among the most widely abused by our expansive federal government. Letters in today’s WSJ remind us that the Founders didn’t leave these open to interpretations that liberal courts and politicians have nevertheless applied. Arnold Nelson notes:

221 years ago James Madison clearly identified some common misunderstandings of the general welfare clause and explained what the Founders meant, clearly, thoughtfully, and I’m sure he felt finally, when in Federalist Number 41 he wrote: “Some . . . have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the [Constitution’s] power ‘. . . to provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States,’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.

“Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it. . . . But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon?”

And following that semicolon is a list of 17 other congressional powers, from “borrow money on the credit of the United States” to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers,” but not a word about health care, environmental protection, education, housing, etc.

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