Calling on the Constitution: Cite it right

Monday, January 3, 2011; 7:21 PM

I applaud the intention of the new Republican leaders of the House to educate themselves and the public about the Constitution ["Constitution is focus of new GOP House rules," news story, Dec. 30]. To do so, however, it is important to ensure that any description of the terms of our founding document is accurate. While some may state that "supporters of the [health-care] law [argue that] the Constitution gives Congress" the authority to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper' to provide for the general Welfare, The Post's article gave the impression that the Constitution provides such power. This is not true.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to execute the other powers of the federal government. But the federal government has no power to promote the general welfare; The Post's story seemed to confuse this article with Article I, Section 8, Clause 1, which authorizes Congress to "lay and collect taxes" used to pay for the general welfare. No one claims that the health-care law can be supported under a general authority of Congress to act for the general welfare.

We can, and should, discuss the Constitution's terms and meanings. In doing so, however, we must be scrupulous about the accuracy of those terms and meanings. The people's understanding of the extent of congressional power, and the courts' interpretation of congressional action, depend on it.

Virginia E. Sloan, Washington

The writer is president of the Constitution Project, which works to reform the nation's criminal justice system.


Republicans in the House are eager to display their newfound love for the Constitution. Yet whenever someone goes to court to enforce a constitutional right of which Republicans do not approve, they claim a mandate to protect democracy against those unelected "activist" judges whose job, as defined by Article III of that same Constitution, is to adjudicate cases and controversies.

I am no longer a Republican because I am just not capable of the required level of double-think.

David J. Edmondson, Alexandria

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