1.8 Constitutional Interpretations of Federalism

3 min readapril 29, 2020

Annika Tekumulla

Annika Tekumulla

AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

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There has been a great deal of debate over the power between the national and state governments. Part of this is because the Constitution is vague and was intended to be a blueprint for the structure of the US government. It was meant to be changed and fixed as heeds arose in the future. 

Necessary and Proper Clause

The Necessary and Proper Clause is an example of how the Constitution has changed over the years. This clause allows Congress to pass laws that they believe are necessary in order to perform their responsibilities.
It is also called the Elastic Clause because it stretches the power of Congress farther from what is explicitly stated in the Constitution. 
Along with the idea of the Necessary and Proper Clause, is the idea of implied powers. Implied powers are powers that are not explicitly stated in the Constitution but are allowed under the necessary and proper clause.
On the other hand, enumerated powers are the specific powers that are given to the government that are explicitly stated in the Constitution (we discussed these earlier in section 1.7). 


Powers of the national and state government are further argued in the Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments.


The Tenth Amendment states that powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the states.
The states have reserved power to make their own decisions as long as they do not infringe on the national government or the explicit powers in the constitution.


The Fourteenth Amendment exhibits the balance of power between the national and state governments as well. The 14th amendment passed in 1868.
Prior to this, the Bill of Rights did not apply to state law. After the Civil War, there was a push to grant equal rights to freed slaves. In response, the Supreme Court used the due process and equal protection clause to expand the Bill of Rights protections. 

Supreme Court Cases

Supreme court cases have also been vital to understanding the balance of power between the states and the national government. Specifically, the interpretations of the Supreme Court cases of McCulloch v Maryland and United States v. Lopez are essential in order to understand the changes in power. 

McCulloch v. Maryland

The 1819 Supreme Court case of McCulloch v Maryland established the supremacy clause which states that federal law has authority over state laws when there is a conflict between the two.
It also declared that Congress has implied powers (powers in the government that are not explicitly in the Constitution) that they can use in order to implement their enumerated powers (specific powers granted to Congress by the Constitution).
This case was important because it enhanced the power of the national government. 

US v. Lopez

This case deals with the interpretation of the commerce clause.
The commerce clause is the congressional power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” It was ruled unconstitutional because Congress exceeded its authority under the commerce clause.
This was a very important decision because it marked the first time in 6 years that the Supreme Court ruled that Congress overstepped its power. 
🎥 Watch: AP GOPO - Types of Federalism
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