In 2009, when asked about the constitutionality of Obamacare, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded, “Are you serious?” In 2010, she was swept from power as her party lost 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the first changes made by Republicans in January 1011 was to adopt a rule that requires bill sponsors to provide a “Constitutional Authority Statement.” In other words, members of Congress must now figure out—and put into the Congressional Record—where (or if) the Constitution grants them the power to do whatever it is they’re trying to do.

Late last month, Rep. Rick Larsen introduced House Resolution 4302 to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States. The Democrat from Washington State’s Second District included a Constitutional Authority Statement that reads as follows.

Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following:

As described in Article 1, Section 1 “all legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress.”

No, I’m not leaving anything out—that’s the whole thing. The so-called Vesting Clause—vesting legislative powers in the Congress—is a great start … but where’s the rest? Because the Constitution doesn’t just say, “all legislative powers shall be vested….” It says something very different and very clear: Congress has only the powers “herein granted.” It’s right there, right in the beginning of the Constitution, an unambiguous statement that federal power is limited (since federal authority begins with federal law, the limits on Congress flow through to the Executive and Judicial branches). It’s a warning to citizens and politicians alike that you actually have to read the document to figure out what powers the federal government has, followed up at the end of the Bill of Rights with a reminder.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Obviously we should cut Rep. Larsen a little slack since he may still be short-staffed after sacking three staffers for tweeting nasty things about him. And justifying the Export-Import Bank, created with an Executive Order by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt and a shining example of federal excess and crony capitalism, may simply be beyond even a career politician like Larsen. Yet the Statement quoted above suggests a disregard for one of the most foundational ideas in a free society: the rule of law and not of men.

Without the Constitution—the fundamental law that creates Congress and gives it certain powers—there would be no Congress at all. For any member of Congress, from Nancy Pelosi to Rick Larsen, to denigrate the Constitution is to suggest that their authority is outside of and above the law.

One final and disappointing note: browsing the list of Constitutional Authority Statements shows that many members of Congress take the responsibility less than seriously, often simply citing “Article I, Section 8,” when they ought to note a particular item from that list of powers. The Republican Study Committee website is now offering one example a week of “Questionable Constitutional Authority Statements.”


[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation’s Liberty Live blog; feature photo credit: CSIS: Center for Strategic & International Studies]