NFIB Sebelius Roberts


affect interstate commerce can be expansive. That power
has been held to authorize federal regulation of such seem-
ingly local matters as a farmer’’s decision to grow wheat
for himself and his livestock, and a loan shark’s extor-
tionate collections from a neighborhood butcher shop.
See Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111 (1942); Perez v.
United States, 402 U. S. 146 (1971).

Congress may also ““lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Im-
posts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the
common Defence and general Welfare of the United
States.”” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 1. Put simply, Con-
gress may tax and spend. This grant gives the Federal
Government considerable influence even in areas where
it cannot directly regulate. The Federal Government may
enact a tax on an activity that it cannot authorize, forbid,
or otherwise control. See, e.g., License Tax Cases, 5 Wall.
462, 471 (1867). And in exercising its spending power,
Congress may offer funds to the States, and may condition
those offers on compliance with specified conditions. See,
e.g., College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecond-
ary Ed. Expense Bd., 527 U. S. 666, 686 (1999). These
offers may well induce the States to adopt policies that
the Federal Government itself could not impose. See, e.g.,
South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U. S. 203, 205-–206 (1987) (con –
ditioning federal highway funds on States raising their
drinking age to 21).

The reach of the Federal Government’’s enumerated
powers is broader still because the Constitution authorizes
Congress to “”make all Laws which shall be necessary and
proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.””
Art. I, §8, cl. 18. We have long read this provision to give
Congress great latitude in exercising its powers: “”Let the
end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitu-
tion, and all means which are appropriate, which are
plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but
consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are


constitutional.”” McCulloch, 4 Wheat., at 421.

Our permissive reading of these powers is explained in
part by a general reticence to invalidate the acts of the
Nation’s elected leaders. “”Proper respect for a co-ordinate
branch of the government”” requires that we strike down
an Act of Congress only if “”the lack of constitutional
authority to pass [the] act in question is clearly demon-
strated.”” United States v. Harris, 106 U. S. 629, 635 (1883).
Members of this Court are vested with the authority to
interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor
the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions
are entrusted to our Nation’’s elected leaders, who can be
thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is
not our job to protect the people from the consequences of
their political choices.

Our deference in matters of policy cannot, however,
become abdication in matters of law. ““The powers of the
legislature are defined and limited; and that those lim-
its may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is
written.”” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 176 (1803).
Our respect for Congress’’s policy judgments thus can
never extend so far as to disavow restraints on federal
power that the Constitution carefully constructed. “”The
peculiar circumstances of the moment may render a
measure more or less wise, but cannot render it more or
less constitutional.”” Chief Justice John Marshall, A
Friend of the Constitution No. V, Alexandria Gazette, July
5, 1819, in John Marshall’’s Defense of McCulloch v. Mary-
land 190-–191 (G. Gunther ed. 1969). And there can be no
question that it is the responsibility of this Court to en-
force the limits on federal power by striking down acts of
Congress that transgress those limits. Marbury v. Madi-
son, supra, at 175–-176.

The questions before us must be considered against the
background of these basic principles.

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