Appellant: James William McCulloch
Appellee: State of Maryland
Appellant's Claim: That a Maryland state tax imposed on the Bank of the United States was unconstitutional interference with federal government activities by the state.
Chief Lawyer for Appellant: Daniel Webster
Chief Lawyer for Appellee: Joseph Hopkinson
Justices for the Court: Gabriel Duvall, William Johnson, Henry B. Livingston, Chief Justice John Marshall, Joseph Story, Bushrod Washington
Justices Dissenting: None (Thomas Todd did not participate)
Date of Decision: March 7, 1819
Decision: Ruled in favor of McCulloch by finding that Congress had a constitutional power to establish a national bank and states could not legally interfere with federal law.
Significance: The ruling established the principle of implied powers through a broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, giving Congress an expanded role in governing the nation. The decision also reinforced the supremacy of federal law over state law when the two conflict. The landmark ruling became the basis for key Court decisions throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries supporting congressional activities.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress power to make laws. Section 1 provides "all Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." Furthermore, Section 8 of Article I enumerates (specifically names or lists) the specific areas where Congress may exercise its law making powers. These include the power to declare war, raise and support armies, provide a navy, regulate commerce, borrow and make money, collect taxes, pay debts, regulate immigration and naturalization, pass bankruptcy laws, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Clause 18 of Section 8 also declares that "Congress shall have Power . . . to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper" for executing (carrying out) its powers.
Almost immediately after the birth of the new nation, a question inevitably arose concerning the list of enumerated powers. Was Congress' power limited by the "necessary and proper" clause to only a few laws needed to carry out the indispensable activities clearly listed in the Constitution? Or, did the clause actually grant Congress broader powers to do almost anything "necessary and proper" to provide for the welfare of its citizens?
The answer came in 1819 in McCulloch v. Maryland. McCulloch provided the U.S. Supreme Court its opportunity to define how broad Congress' power should be and, additionally, to what extent states could regulate activities which fell within the powers of the...