The Constitution enumerates the powers of the federal government. But has anyone listed the exclusive powers of states—the realm the federal government may not invade without violating the Constitution?
When discussing state authority, the Founders usually pointed out only that the federal government’s powers were, as Madison said, “few and defined,” and that the states and people retained everything else. But that presents a problem for modern readers, who often aren’t familiar with 18th century language.
For example, if a reader doesn’t know that the word “commerce” in 18th century constitutional discourse usually was defined as “mercantile trade and certain closely related activities,” he might think it means “business” as in the phrase “Chamber of Commerce.” The modern reader might therefore conclude that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause grants to Congress general authority to regulate business.
Fortunately, during the ratification debates some advocates of the Constitution did clarify the document by listing for the public certain designated activities that would remain outside the federal sphere. One reason the Constitution was ratified was that the general public relied on these representations.
In 2003, I collected many of them in an article entitled The Enumerated Powers of States.
As is typical in academia, few law journals were interested in publishing an article that explained the original meaning of the Constitution and how it limited federal authority. Nevertheless, the Nevada Law Journal, then a relatively new publication, did agree to publish it. This proved to be a very good move for the Nevada Law Journal: In the ensuing years, The Enumerated Powers of States has become one of my most cited scholarly articles.
The Enumerated Powers of States listed area after area that the Constitution’s advocates represented as outside of federal control:
* training the militia and appointing its officers;
* control over local government;
* regulating real estate;
* regulating personal property outside of commerce;
* the law of family and domestic affairs;
* most criminal law;
* civil justice between citizens of the same state;
* social services;
* agriculture; and
* control of most business enterprises.
Since 2003, I have found several sources confirming this list. One example is a enumeration that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on Dec. 26, 1787, which is reprinted in Volume 2 of the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution at p.650.
The very recent