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Article Title

McCulloch at 200

Keywords

U.S. Supreme Court case, Chief Justice John Marshall, implied powers, enumerated power, constitutionality

Abstract

March 6, 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s issuance of its decision in McCulloch v. Maryland, upholding the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States, the successor to Alexander Hamilton’s national bank. McCulloch v. Maryland involved a constitutional challenge by the Second Bank of the United States to a Maryland tax on the banknotes issued by the Bank’s Baltimore branch. The tax was probably designed to raise the Second Bank’s cost of issuing loans and thereby disadvantage it relative to Maryland’s own state-chartered banks. Marshall’s opinion famously rejected the Jeffersonian strict-constructionist argument that implied powers are limited to those legislative means that are indispensably necessary to the viability of the enumerated power. Instead, Marshall concluded, Congress must have discretion to choose among any means convenient or well-adapted to implementing the government’s granted powers. After concluding that Congress had the power to create the Second Bank, the McCulloch opinion turned to the question of whether Maryland could tax it. Reasoning that the essence of federal supremacy is to remove all obstacles to federal government action within its sphere, Marshall concluded that states cannot tax operations of the federal government.

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