Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



During the 190 years since the Constitution's adoption, the legislative authority of the Congress has greatly expanded. In the beginning, Congress's powers were closely circumscribed, but over the years the boundaries by which they were initially confined have been almost entirely obliterated. Congress has ceased to be merely the legislative authority of a federal government; it has for all practical purposes acquired the legislative authority of a unitary nation. Especially in the economic sphere, it is only a small exaggeration to say that Congress now possesses plenary authority.

Of course, Congress need not-and, in fact, does not--exercise all the power that it may. A great deal of economic policy is left to the states. But the reasons are political, not constitutional. If Congress determines that a national solution is appropriate for one or another economic issue, its power to fashion one is not likely to be limited by constitutional divisions of power between it and the state legislatures.


Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.