Constitutional Powers Summary

by Mike Kapic – July 2, 2021

After listening or watching the news or reading an essay about one of the three branches of US government (Congress, Executive, or Supreme Court) performing some act of governance, the question I invariably ask myself is, “does the Constitution allow them to do that?” I believe the answer has two parts: Until the early years of the 20th century, probably, yes. After 1913, probably, no.

Why wasn’t I paying more attention in civics class, or were some of the rudimentary elements of the Constitution not explained to us? I’ve had to do crash research to catch. How is the Constitution, the blueprint of our Nation’s government, supposed to work, in layman’s terms?

Well, we have a bit of it here in summary form. It comes from Where’s the Line: How States Protect the Constitution by Ken Ivory, retired Utah State Representative, available here.

Mr. Ivory lays the full power of the government with we the people, less a small part (originally intended) of our liberty surrendered to a limited government. As such, we live in a republic, not so much a democracy. The states also have certain powers (some equal, some greater, some less) with the national government. Mr. Ivory equates this power balance to the competition of a ‘tug of war’ with a rope. Below is a brief summary of the powers described in the Constitution:  

Congressional Powers–Summary:

  • Decennial census;
  • Override state congressional election laws regulating time, place, & manner except senatorial voting place;
  • Lay taxes for the common defense and the US welfare; all to be uniform across nation;
  • Borrow money on US credit
  • Regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, & Indian tribes;
  • Establish naturalization and uniform laws for bankruptcy;
  • Coin money, regulate its value & that of foreign coin, fix standard of weights & measure;
  • Punish counterfeiting US securities and current coin;
  • Establish post offices & post roads;
  • Promote science & arts by securing for limited time to authors & inventors exclusive rights;
  • Establish courts inferior to SCOTUS;
  • Define & punish piracies & felonies on the high seas & offences against the law of nations;
  • Declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, & make rules on captures on land & water;
  • Raise & support armies with appropriation’s for no more than two years;
  • Provide & maintain a navy;
  • Make rules governing & regulating land & naval forces;
  • Call for the militia to enforce laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;
  • Organize, arm, & discipline the militia for use by US, with the states defining officers & training;
  • Legislate the District of Columbia as the seat of US government;
  • Make all laws necessary & proper to effect the execution of these powers;
  • Authorize a federal officer to receive benefits from a foreign nation;
  • Fix the pay of Congress & federal officers;
  • Set the time for choosing electors;
  • Establish who succeeded to the presidency after the vice president;
  • Create exceptions to the supreme court’s appellate jurisdiction;
  • Fix the jurisdiction of federal courts inferior to SCOTUS;
  • Declare the punishment for treason;
  • Establish the rules by which the records and judgments of states are proved in other states;
  • Manage federal property;
  • Dispose of federal property;
  • Govern federal territories;
  • Consent admission of new states or the combining of existing states;
  • Defend states from invasion, insurrection, and non-republican forms of government;
  • Propose constitutional amendments;
  • On 2/3 of the states application, call a convention for proposing amendments;
  • Abolish slavery;
  • Guard people from certain state abuses;
  • Impose income taxes;
  • Revise the manner of presidential succession;
  • Extend & protect the right to vote;
  • Grant pay raise to a sitting Congress;

Executive Powers—Summary

  • Veto Congressional bills, orders, & resolutions;
  • Serve as armed forces Commander-in-Chief;
  • Grant reprieves & pardons;
  • Make vacancy appointments;
  • Make treaties subject to advice & consent of Senate;
  • Appoint domestic affairs officers subject to advice & consent of Senate or law;
  • Appoint judges subject to advice & consent of Senate;
  • Fill designated inferior offices without senatorial consent;
  • Receive representatives of foreign powers;
  • Execute the laws;
  • Commission US officers;
  • Give Congress information;
  • Make recommendations to Congress;
  • Convene Congress on extraordinary occasions;
  • Adjourn Congress if it cannot agree on a time;

Judicial Grants—Summary

  • Jurisdiction of foreign country representatives;
  • Jurisdiction over state subject to an individual suit without its consent;
  • Six additional types of appellate jurisdiction, subject to removal by Congress;
  • Congress creates lower courts with limited jurisdiction assigned;

Powers Prohibited to the States

1-No State shall:

  • Enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation;
  • Grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal;
  • Coin Money; emit Bills of Credit;
  • Make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts;
  • Pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts;
  • Grant any Title of Nobility.

2- No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, with certain exceptions.

3- No State shall, without the Consent of Congress:

  • Lay any duty of Tonnage;
  • Keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace;
  • Enter into any Agreement of Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Constitutional Powers Reserved to The States Summary



•​Domestic relations

•​Manufacturing (including labor relations)

•​Business enterprises


•​Land use

•​Land titles and conveyances

•​Property outside of interstate trade

•​Commerce wholly within state lines

•​State and local governments

•​Establishment and regulation of most crimes

•​Civil litigation

•​Social services, including care of the poor

•​Training the militia and appointing militia officers



•​Roads (other than post roads)

•​All other powers not delegated to the federal government

After your review, do you believe the government in Washington DC today meets or exceeds this brief outline of their Constitutional duties?

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