McCulloch v. Maryland

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McCulloch v. Maryland
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation
Date decided March 6, 1819
Cited by
Shelby County v. Holder

Facts

The state of Maryland imposed a tax requiring all banks chartered outside the state to print their bank notes on stamped paper if they est. any branch or office within Maryland's boundaries. The tax was similar to those passed in other states during a period of strong state sentiment against the Bank of the United States. The taxes were aimed at excluding the bank from operating branches within those states. The Bank of the US fell within the statutory definition, but issued notes on unstamped paper. Accordingly, Maryland brought an action for debt collection against McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the US. The state courts imposed penalties on McCulloch, and McCulloch appealed.

Issues

  1. Even though the Constitution does not expressly grant Congress the power to incorporate a bank, can it do so under a doctrine of implied powers?
  2. Is the federal government supreme over the states so that a bank created by it pursuant to its constitutional powers is immune from taxation by the sates?

Holding

  1. Yes.
    • Under the Necessary and Proper Clause, any appropriate means that Congress uses to attain legitimate ends that are within the scope of the Constitution and not prohibited by it, but are consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.
    • The federal government is one of enumerated powers, which are found in the Constitution. However, the Constitution cannot contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of governmental powers and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution. Otherwise, the Constitution would become nothing more than a legal code. The government must have the ability to execute the powers entrusted to it through the best available means.
    • Any means that directly executes a power enumerated in the Constitution may be considered incidental to the enumerated power. The word "necessary" in the Necessary and Proper Clause does not limit Congress to indispensable means; rather, the term enlarges the powers vested in the federal government. Congress has discretion in choosing the best means to perform its duties in the manner most beneficial to the people.
    • The creation of a corporation is one of those powers that can be implied as incidental to other powers or used as a means of executing them. The incorporation of the Bank of the US is a convenient, useful, and essential instrument in the performance of the fiscal operations of the federal government. The US is a sovereign and thus has the power to create a corporation.
  2. Yes.
    • The Constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme. They control the constitutions and laws of the respective states and cannot be controlled by them. A state, which represents only a part of the people of the nation, cannot act to control the government of the whole country.
    • The power to tax is the power to destroy. It is also the power to control. The tax that Maryland imposed on the Bank of the US is an attempt by that state to control an operation of the government of the whole. The tax, therefore, is unconstitutional.
      • Note: This part of the opinion gave a wide scope to the Supremacy Clause. A state law is void if it retards, impedes, burdens or otherwise interferes with the accomplishment of the congressional purpose in enacting the federal law. Unless the US government is supreme, it would be no better off than the weak government under the Articles of Confederation.

Judgment

Reversed.

Comments

This case established the doctrine of implied powers and emphatically articulated the supremacy of the federal government. The opinion went far beyond the needs of the specific case to promote the power of the federal government.

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