Delegated Powers

Delegated powers are government powers specifically outlined in the U.S. Constitution. These powers limit what Congress can do, and also define what Congress is in charge of regulating. Delegated powers are those authorities that the Constitutional framers deemed worthy of Congressional effort and which the framers believed would not limit personal freedoms of individuals. The U.S. Constitution, which is both a concise, and a very old document, establishes rules on what Congress does and does not have control over. To explore this concept, consider the following delegated powers definition.

Definition of Delegated Powers


  1. Specific powers granted to Congress as outlined in Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.


1788         Ratification of the U.S. Constitution

What are Delegated Powers

The term delegated powers refers to the authorities granted to the United States Congress in of the U.S. Constitution. An important thing to note regarding how enumerated powers are established is that the Constitution does not outline what the government cannot do, but what it can do. Anything not specifically outlined in the Constitution as a power that is bestowed upon Congress, is not something Congress has the authority to do. These are also frequently called “enumerated powers,” because they specifically itemize Congress’ authority.

Congress operates within this paradigm of expected responsibilities and delegated powers, proposing legislation, and voting on it to determine whether or not it will become law. Congress has an important role within the greater legislative process, as it is the branch that initially writes the laws. Members of Congress then promote and vote on these laws, which the President will either sign or veto.

The Constitution works fundamentally as an outline of the responsibilities and authority of the three branches of government, as well as which powers are reserved for the states. This includes detailing what matters Congress has authority over, how much authority it has, and what types of legislation and regulation it may establish. As the Constitution was ratified over two hundred years ago, the process of deciding what issues over which Congress does and does not have authority is still a matter of contention at times.

Congressional Authority over Taxes

No single individual in government has the authority to create a new tax, or to change an existing tax rate. Rather, this authority is delegated to Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. It is only through the congressional process that the American people are assigned new or adjusted taxes, which in turn creates revenue for the federal government.

How Many Delegated Powers Does Congress Have

The Constitution acts as an operating manual for the U.S. government, citing all of the responsibilities and authorities that the federal government holds. Congress has eighteen delegated powers, all of which are listed individually in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. These deal with important issues that affect all citizens of the nation, such as collecting taxes and duties, and making financial decisions regarding borrowing money on behalf of the country. Specifically, Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides the following powers to Congress:

  1. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
  2. To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;
  3. To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
  4. To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  5. To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
  6. To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
  7. To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
  8. To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
  9. To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
  10. To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
  11. To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
  12. To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
  13. To provide and maintain a Navy;
  14. To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
  15. To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
  16. To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
  17. To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; — And
  18. To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Delegated Powers by Branch of Government

The power of the federalist type of government lies in the division of powers, which ensures that no single person or entity has all authority over the people. In the United States, the Constitution delegates certain powers to each of the three branches of government. Not only does the Constitution delegate powers by branch of government, but each branch has the authority and responsibility to check on the actions of another. This system is referred to as a system of “checks and balances.”

The three branches of government are as follows:

Executive Branch

The Executive Branch is comprised of the President of the United States, his advisors, and the Presidential Cabinet. It is the job of the President to sign into law those bills he believes are reasonable, while vetoing those he deems not reasonable. Even though Congress has already passed each law before it makes it to the President, this final opportunity to sign or veto a bill provides an important balance to the powers of Congress.

The President may, at his discretion, veto a bill, forcing Congress to return to the editing and voting process to achieve a two-thirds majority vote in both houses to override the President’s veto. This means that, even if a President vetoes a bill, it could still become law, should Congress gain enough votes.

As an example of delegated powers being exercised in the Executive Branch, President Barak Obama routinely promised to veto any bill that failed to fund Planned Parenthood. As President, he is specifically opposed to Republican attempts to diminish the program’s funding. By exercising his power of veto, the President balanced Congress’ beliefs with his own. Should Congress fail to obtain the two-thirds majority to override the veto, they have the option of making changes to the bill, then returning it to the President for signature.

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch is Congress, and it deals with many elements of law in the United States, including taxation, regulation of both interstate and foreign commerce, and authority over federal spending policies. Contrary to what many people believe to be true, the President of the United States cannot declare war on another country. Rather, this power is given to Congress. The Legislative Branch tempers the Executive Branch, and both are in turn balanced by the Judicial Branch’s authority to review laws that have already been passed to ensure their constitutionality.

Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch is comprised of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Federal Judicial Center. The Supreme Court is comprised of a panel of nine of the most esteemed justices in the country, who convene to decide cases of paramount importance. When a circuit court decision is not deemed satisfactory, cases may be appealed to higher courts to be reviewed.

The highest court in which a case can be tried is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s job is to review important issues, laws, and court rulings to determine whether they violate any provisions of the U.S. Constitution, or whether there has been judicial error on the matter. This ability to review what the other branches of government have already passed into law is integral to the checks and balances of government.

Delegated Powers Example in Affordable Care Act

An example of delegated powers in action is the process by which the President Obama worked around Congress in implementing the Affordable Care Act. which is an integral part of the delegated powers within which Congress operates.

Legal scholars at the time determined that, while it would not be within Congress’ authority to require that each person purchase nationally provided healthcare insurance, it would be within Congress’ authority, under the Commerce Clause, to charge a punitive tax fee to those who elected not to purchase the insurance.

While this may seem like a meaningless distinction to many, it is how contemporary lawyers, representatives, and legal scholars work to infer meaning from the Constitution – a document that predates them by hundreds of years. In this example, the law was worked to technically fit within one of the delegated powers granted to Congress – its authority over interstate commerce.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Checks and Balances – a system that allows each branch of a government to amend or veto acts of another branch so as to prevent any one branch from exerting too much power.
  • Executive Branch – The branch of federal and state government that is broadly responsible for implementing, supporting, and enforcing the laws made by the legislative branch and interpreted by the judicial branch.
  • Judicial Branch – The branch of the U.S. government that interprets the law and administers justice.
  • Legislative Branch – The branch of the U.S. Government that creates laws.
  • Presidential Cabinet – The principal presidentially-appointed officers of departments of the executive branch of the S. government.
  • Veto – The power of a president or governor to reject a bill proposed by a legislature by refusing to sign it into law.

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