A major intellectual breakthrough at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the realization that sovereign authority could be divided between levels of government – it didn’t have to be focused all in one place, as people previously had believed. The Convention produced a Constitution that left the states with sovereign authority over most governmental concerns, but delegated to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government certain specified responsibilities. These are called the federal government’s “enumerated powers.”
The Constitution’s longest list of enumerated powers is found in Article I, Section 8, which lists eighteen of Congress’s powers. The Constitution grants Congress additional responsibilities in other parts of the document, and several amendments do also. Most of the President’s enumerated powers are listed in Article II, Sections 2 and 3; the judiciary’s authority is in Article III.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Supreme Court reinterpreted several of Congress’s enumerated powers so as to enable Congress to regulate far more of American life than previously.
cross-posted from the Electric City Weblog