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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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You Make the Call: Using the Constitution to Decide the Outcome

Congratulations! The year is 1819 and you are a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. Your responsibility is to use the U.S. Constitution to determine the outcome of the McCulloch v. Maryland case. In order to make an educated decision, you must follow these procedures:

  1. Prepare yourself by reading the Background Summary.
  2. Read the excerpts from the U.S. Constitution below. In your own words, explain each of the excerpts.
  3. Read the summary of the arguments presented by each side below. With whom do you agree? Why?
  4. Write your decision. Be sure to include at least one idea from each of the three excerpts from the U.S. Constitution.
Excerpts from the Constitution

Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have the Power . . . 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.

Article VI, Clause 2: The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.

Summary of the Arguments

For McCulloch: Daniel Webster argued that although the power to charter a national bank is not specifically stated in the Constitution, it is one of the implied powers that the "necessary and proper" clause grants Congress. According to Webster, the bank was a "necessary and proper" way for Congress to conduct the financial affairs of the country. On the issue of whether or not Maryland could tax the bank, Webster argued that if Maryland were allowed to tax the bank, the state could destroy the bank by taxing it out of existence.

For Maryland: Maryland's Attorney General, Luther Martin, represented the state. He challenged Webster's assertion that the authority to establish a national bank is an implied power, saying that because creating a bank was not specifically stated in the Constitution, Congress did not have the authority to do so. Rather, it is a power that is reserved for the states. He went on to argue that because states are sovereign, they have the authority to tax institutions and businesses within their borders.

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