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McCulloch v. Maryland (S.Ct. 1819)


Congress chartered a bank that established an active branch in Maryland. Because the bank was not chartered by the Maryland legislature, it was subject to a Maryland state tax that applied to all banks operating without that state’s authority. The bank failed to comply with the tax law, arguing that the tax constituted a wrongful interference with Congress’ lawmaking powers.

Issue 1:

Does the exercise of federal power predominate over a state’s claims to power?

Rule 1:

(Marshall, C.J.) The federal government emanates from the people, not from the states. Therefore, the states may not limit the powers granted to Congress by the Constitution.

Issue 2:

To what extent has the Constitution granted Congress the power to make laws?

Rule 2:

(Marshall, C.J.) Although the federal government is one of enumerated powers, i.e., having only the powers granted to it, the powers are not limited to those explicitly stated in the Constitution, but also include those powers which are implied in the nature and spirit of the Constitution. In granting specific powers to Congress to achieve certain national goals, the Framers of the Constitution intended that the federal government have the means available to achieve those goals, although not expressly stated. An example would be Congress’ power to punish for the violation of its laws. Although not expressly granted, such a power is implied for Congress successfully to bring about the desired goals of its lawmaking. The necessary and proper clause of the Constitution is an explicit grant to Congress to enact laws which are necessary to carry out its objectives. a) The Supreme Court defines “necessary” as something which is convenient, useful, or essential to achieving a desired purpose. It does not mean indispensable. b) The decision of whether a law is necessary should be left to the Congress to determine and should not be invalidated by the Court unless it is clear that the law is not within Congress’ powers.

Issue 3:

May a state tax federal entities located within its jurisdiction?

Rule 3:

(Marshall, C.J.) The power to tax is the power to destroy. Therefore, a state tax statute that interferes with Congress’ power to make laws is invalid.

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