U.S. Constitution Day Celebrated at CSUN with Presentation on "General Welfare"

Dr. James Sefton (left); Dr. John Evans

Congress's power to legislate for social, legal and health-related purposes arises from the U.S. Supreme Court's expansive view of Congressional authority under the U.S. Constitution, according to a presentation by two Constitutional law experts at CSUN.

CSUN history professor James Sefton and John Evans, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, led an annual seminar for the community that explores the meaning of the Constitution. More than 100 community members attended the event Sept. 7, hosted annually by the Tseng College in honor of U.S. Constitution Day.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to tax and provide for the general welfare, and lists specific powers granted to Congress, including the right to regulate interstate commerce.

Alexander Hamilton defined Congressional power expansively. "He talks about the power of Congress to tax and spend beyond the enumerated powers, as long as it legislates in the general interest of the country," Dr. Sefton said. "Congress started following Hamilton quite early, especially concerning internal improvements, such as roads."

The United States Supreme Court affirmed in 1937 that Hamilton's view would prevail when it upheld the Social Security Act. It later upheld federal civil rights legislation under the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.

"Congress uses other ways of legislating for general welfare," Dr. Sefton said. "It uses the Commerce Clause extensively, because there is almost nothing you can do without affecting interstate commerce."

A division dating back to the earliest days of the United States questioned whether Congress had the power to legislate for the "general welfare" only under its power to tax, or whether it had broader powers to pass legislation for the general welfare, separately from its power to tax.

"The concept of general welfare is very politically charged right now," Dr. Sefton said. "It is a partisan issue. What do you want the government to do for you, with you, about you? That relates to general welfare."

Abstract arguments over the meaning of Constitutional wording become concrete when debating the basis of power for Congress to pass health care, Social Security and civil rights legislation.

"Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes for the general welfare," Dr. Evans said. The Supreme Court upheld the Obama health care law as a tax, with Congress's power to tax for the general welfare giving it the power to pass the law."

The annual Constitution Day event invites the local community to discuss the Constitution and its meaning in today's world. Share your views with on our Facebook page.