Supreme Court Review 2016/2017 TERM
SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2017

EXPLORE THE CONSTITUTION

PREAMBLE

TEXT OF CONSTITUTION

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

COMMENT

The Preamble explains the purposes of the Constitution, and defines the powers of the new government as originating from the people of the United States.

Although the preamble is not a source of power for any department of the Federal Government, the Supreme Court has often referred to it as evidence of the origin, scope, and purpose of the Constitution. ''Its true office,'' wrote Joseph Story in his Commentaries, ''is to expound the nature and extent and application of the powers actually conferred by the Constitution, and not substantively to create them. For example, the preamble declares one object to be, 'provide for the common defense.' No one can doubt that this does not enlarge the powers of Congress to pass any measures which they deem useful for the common defence. But suppose the terms of a given power admit of two constructions, the one more restrictive, the other more liberal, and each of them is consistent with the words, but is, and ought to be, governed by the intent of the power; if one could promote and the other defeat the common defence, ought not the former, upon the soundest principles of interpretation, to be adopted?''

SOURCES

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The commentary above consists of excerpts from language prepared by the United States Senate (currently located here) and the official text of "The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation" ("Annotated Constitution") (located here). In 1970 (via Public Law 91-589, currently located at 2 U.S.C. § 168) (the "1970 Law"), the United States Congress authorized the Librarian of Congress to prepare a revised version of the Annotated Constitution every ten years and to make amendments to the decennial version every two years (in the form of cumulative pocket-part supplements).  The original Annotated Constitution was prepared in 1964, but at that time no system was put in place to amend it. The 1970 Law rectified that omission. Under the current system (pursuant to the 1970 Law), the Librarian of Congress is only required to print hard copies of the Annotated Constitution. As of yet, there have been no amendments to the 1970 Law requiring electronic copies to be made available to the public. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress in conjunction with the Government Printing Office have created pdf versions of the Annotated Constitution which they have made available to the general public. They have also created a mobile app which can be accessed here. The footnotes contained in the full version of the Annotated Constitution have not been included above.  You may reference the full version, including the footnotes, by downloading it here.