McCulloch V. Maryland - BlueYouth Live Group

Welcome to the second part of the 15-part mini series where we examine College Board's list of the supposed 15 most important SCOTUS cases in US History! 

Our SCOTUS case for this week is... McCulloch V. Maryland!!!

Background: In the years when this issues that brewed up this case occurred, the federal and the state governments where slightly in contention. The semi-newly established, strong federal government was something that the state governments were not used to under the Articles of Confederation, so they were feeling somewhat threatened by the new government. So, when Congress decided to place a branch of the Bank of the United States in Maryland, some controversy arose. Maryland's government decided that they wanted to tax all banks that were from out of state, and while this may have seemed like a general tax that just happened to coincide with the new US Bank moving in, it wasn't. The Bank of the United States was literally the only out-of-state bank in the state of Maryland. James McCulloch, who ran this branch of the bank, refused to pay this tax when Maryland demanded it, so Maryland sued him. 

Basic Overview of the Case: The case was first taken to Baltimore County Court, who ruled in favor of Maryland, and then the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the Baltimore County Court. The case was then taken to the Supreme Court where the ruling was a bit different.  There were two issues in contention, whether or not Congress had the power to create a federal bank and whether or not Maryland was allowed to impose taxes on that bank. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress was allowed to create a federal bank and that it was unconstitutional for Maryland to tax that bank. Marshall cited the Necessary and Proper clause, deeming that Congress was allowed to create and finish all plans outlined in their enumerated powers. The Supreme Court also ruled that states did not have the power to impose taxes on federal entities, further establishing federal power over state power. 

How has this Case Impacted US History?: This case set the precedent for giving the federal government powers that were not specifically listed in the Constitution, and created a fundamental understanding between states that the federal government was the overlying power in the United States. Without these two things, the government would have been held back by not having their implied powers and letting the states continue to be somewhat sovereign and slightly resentful of the United States federal government. 

Does this case deserve to be on the list?: This isn't as easy for me to answer as it was with Marbury V. Madison, but I think it does. This case established numerous aspects of federal power that were either unclear or unstated before this time. I think that this is one of those cases that is technically quite important, but maybe a little bit less interesting than some of the other cases on this list. 

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2 years ago
Agree with your assessment of the case’s importance. I’d also add that it further solidifies proof that the Marshall Court is going to rule in favor of the Federalist reading of the new(ish) Constitution. So much of the Supreme Court’s internal values system relies on precedent; this precedent is hugely important in the face of the rise of Jeffersonian republicanism in the early 19th century.