Exclusive Powers

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The federal government is a government of delegated powers, meaning that it has only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution. All other powers, the Tenth Amendment reads, “are reserved to the states . . . or to the people.” The powers delegated to the federal government may be exclusive, meaning that they may be exercised only by the federal government, or they may be concurrent, meaning that they can be exercised by both the federal and state governments. Sometimes it is apparent when a power is exclusive because the Constitution is explicit, such as in Article I, Section 8, when it grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over the nation’s capitol. In other places, when delegating a power to the federal government, the Constitution specifically denies the same power to the states. For example, Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “coin money” while Section 10 of the same article specifically prohibits the states from “coin[ing] Money.” There may also be instances, as Alexander Hamilton points out in The Federalist No. 32, when “a similar authority in the States would be absolutely and totally contradictory and repugnant” to a power vested in the federal government, such as the power of “prescribing rules for naturalization,” even though the Constitution does not explicitly deny this power to the states. There are also times when the exercise of federal authority preempts a field and precludes state regulation of the same subject matter, even though the state would be free to exercise its authority over the matter if the federal government had not acted. Finally, there are instances in which courts have held that the exercise of state authority is inconsistent with the grant of the commerce power to the federal government even though the federal government has not exercised its power. This is termed the “dormant power of the Commerce Clause.”

Ellis Katz

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Commerce among the States; Concurrent Powers; Preemption; Reserved Powers