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Bill Sargent, Mark Mansius and John Gay are writing columns on important issues for today.

Govermnent Overreach and the Supremacy Clause

October 14, 2013

A few weeks ago one reader suggested that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution is part of the first amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,”).  That got our interest because the “Supremacy Clause” is actually in Article Six of the Constitution and reads:

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Members of the Constitutional Convention later commented about its meaning. Alexander Hamilton wrote, “...but the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding.”  William Davies continued, “This Constitution, as to the powers therein granted, is constantly to be the supreme law of the land…  ...It is not the supreme law in the exercise of a power not granted.”  Our Framers envisioned two governments both supreme and independent within their own respective spheres.  They also again made this division clear in the Tenth Amendment that any areas not specifically carved out for Federal government are areas where the several states or the people have supremacy.  It reads:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 

So, the act of interstate commerce (that is, the transportation of goods and services across state lines) belongs in the Federal realm, while commerce within the boundaries of a state is within the state’s domain.   The national defense and issues between states (such as claims over rights to Colorado River water) are clearly within the Federal jurisdiction.  So is border security.
The problems come when the Federal government imposes its will in areas that are not delegated to it by the constitution nor authorized by the Congress or when it abuses its authority.   Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Department of Education:   There is no mention of education in the Constitution and, as far as we can see, no justification for Federal involvement.  Education should be handled at the state and local level – the closer to the people the better.
  • The IRS targeting of conservative and TEA party groups: A call from the IRS puts fear in the heartiest of citizens and when an agency goes “rogue” it needs to be stopped in its tracks!  The IRS targeting scandal is just another example of the current Administration’s going beyond proper bounds.

God gave our forefathers wisdom as they created our unique form of government, designed to keep it from spinning out of control through heavy taxation and choking laws.  Yet, today the unbounded Federal reach consisting of limitless debt, unlimited spending, and unwieldy controls choke our spirits and freedoms.  May we once again find wisdom and return to our framer intended structure and roles for government. 

Bill, Mark, and John