Spending Clause

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The Spending Clause is Article I, Section 8, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes that:

The Congress shall have Power ... to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.

Accordingly, the Spending Clause should be limited to "the common Defence and general Welfare," when in fact it has been construed as almost unlimited in scope since the New Deal era.

In South Dakota v. Dole (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court established a four-part test for whether a condition imposed by Congress on spending (whether a state raised its minimum drinking age to 21) was constitutional under the Spending Clause. An expenditure will be upheld if:

  1. it is for the general welfare,
  2. the "conditions imposed are unambiguous,"
  3. "the conditions imposed are reasonably related to the purpose of the expenditure," and
  4. the condition does not violate any independent constitutional guaranty.

Justices William Brennan and Sandra Day O'Connor dissented.


See also