- Bill: H.R. 1137, H.R. 1684, H.R. 2510, H.R. 3645, H.R. 3646, H.R. 3647
- Introduced by: Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH)
- Constitutional Authority Statement: “Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.”
Why this is an inadequate explanation: The entirety of Article 1, Section 8 is offered in an attempt to justify the passage of the six bills proposed above. This section does admittedly grant powers to Congress. In fact, it grants numerous powers to the Congress—18 clauses worth of powers, to be precise. Unfortunately, however, that is exactly the problem here: the Constitutional Authority Statement cites the general powers of Congress, but either cannot decide or does not want to explain which one of the numerous powers would grant the federal government the power to pass the legislation.
To the question of which constitutional power of Congress justifies this legislation, the statement apparently offers the answer of “all of them.” While this seemingly covers a good number of bases, it fails the only duty it actually has: namely, to offer a genuine constitutional justification for the legislation itself. Instead, it gives a general area of the Constitution in which, like a treasure hunt, the reader might be sent off to find the real constitutional justification. Unfortunately, however, the Constitutional Authority Statement is not intended to be a vague treasure map, and the response of “it’s there somewhere, just keep looking” does not work nearly as well with constitutional justification.
What is even worse, this precise and inadequate explanation was used for six different bills. Repeated use of an inadequate justification does not make the explanation any more acceptable. While consistency is often admirable, consistency in one’s method of ignoring the Constitution is not. The lack of regard this shows toward the importance of the Constitution itself, and the limit of powers therein, is troubling.
How to fix this statement: The Constitutional Authority Statement should provide a serious explanation about the constitutionality of each bill. It should then thoroughly explain its choice of clause and show why the Congress has the power to pass the proposed legislation. In this case, for each law proposed there is no thorough or serious explanation offered. Fixing the statement could be as simple as choosing a relevant power of Congress within the Section identified by the statement, and then including a short explanation.
Example of a Good Constitutional Authority Statement:
H.R. 2562, Wallow Fire Recovery and Monitoring Act
Rep. Gosar (R-AZ)
Statement: “Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2.
"The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
Currently, the federal government possesses approximately 1.8 billion acres of land. The land at issue in this bill is but a small part of those holdings. The U.S. Constitution specifically addresses the relationship of the federal government to lands. Article IV, Sec. 3, Clause 2--the Property Clause--gives Congress plenary power and full authority over federal property. The U.S. Supreme Court has described Congress's power to legislate under this Clause as ‘without limitation.’ Because of this express Constitutional authority, Congress has the right, if not the duty, to properly manage its public lands, including establishing forestation policies, and tree harvesting and tree salvaging. This bill falls squarely within the express Constitutional power set forth in the Property Clause.”
Why this is a good statement: The statement above chooses a specific section and clause of the Constitution, and quotes it to justify the legislation. What is more, the statement explains in its own words why the clause quoted is relevant to this specific legislation. A serious and thorough attempt has been made to constitutionally justify the legislation, and the resulting Constitutional Authority Statement is a strong one.
**Disclaimer: The RSC does not necessarily support or oppose the bills listed in these weekly emails;
rather, the bills are selected strictly based on the structure and seriousness of their Constitutional Authority Statements**
-To read the current House Rule on Constitutional Authority Statements, click here, and find Rule XII, Section 7(c).
-The Heritage Foundation has created an online guide to the Constitution, which provides an explanation and discussion of every clause. To see this online guide, go here.
-To see previous “Questionable Constitutional Authority Statements,” as well as advice for drafting your office’s Constitutional Authority Statements, go here.
RSC Staff Contacts for these weekly emails: Rick.Eberstadt@mail.house.gov and Paul.Teller@mail.house.gov.