McCulloch v. Maryland - Case Summary

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Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 497 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: McCulloch v. Maryland was a pivotal Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional authority of Congress to legislate through implied powers.


In 1816, the United States Congress established the Second Bank of the United States. James McCulloch, a cashier for the Baltimore branch of the bank, issued bank notes despite a Maryland statute prohibiting the issuance unless a tax was paid. McCulloch, backed by the national government, refused to pay the tax, leading Maryland to sue McCulloch for violating state law.


The primary issue in McCulloch v. Maryland was whether Congress had the constitutional authority under implied powers or the Necessary and Proper Clause to create a national bank. If so, the additional question was whether Maryland could, without violating the Constitution, impose a tax on the bank.


McCulloch v. Maryland cemented the doctrine of implied powers, which gave the federal government expanded authority. This interpretation has influenced myriad Supreme Court decisions since. Furthermore, the case significantly bolstered principles of federalism, by holding that while states and the federal government have concurrent jurisdiction, federal law is supreme and states cannot interfere with federal action.


Chief Justice John Marshall's Court ruled that Congress did have the power to create the national bank, utilizing the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. The Court found that the Constitution gives the federal government implied powers to implement the document's express powers. Moreover, the Court held that Maryland's tax on the bank was unconstitutional, as the power to tax involves the power to destroy, and a state cannot interfere with federal laws.


  • McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819).
  • U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 8, cl.18.
  • Feldman, S. (2004) 'American Legal Thought from Premodernism to Postmodernism: An Intellectual Voyage', Oxford University Press.

Journalist Brief

The McCulloch v. Maryland case in 1819 saw the U.S. Supreme Court deciding on how much power the U.S. Congress has: can it establish a national bank, even though the Constitution doesn't explicitly say so? The Court decided 'yes'—Congress has some implied powers, including creating a national bank. Furthermore, the state of Maryland, which sued because it believed it could tax the bank, was told 'no'—it couldn't interfere with federal law. This decision is a landmark one affirming the power of federal governance.


What was McCulloch v. Maryland?

Answer: It was a U.S. Supreme Court case that affirmed the implied powers of Congress and the supremacy of federal law over state law.

Can a state interfere with or tax a federal entity?

Answer: No, according to this case, a state cannot interfere with or tax a federal entity as it would imply the power to destroy it.

What is the doctrine of implied powers?

Answer: It's a doctrine acknowledging that the federal government has powers beyond those explicitly listed in the Constitution, if they're necessary for executing its specified responsibilities.

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