The state of Maryland attempted to impede operation of a branch of the Second Bank of the United States by imposing a tax on all notes of banks not chartered in Maryland. Though the law, by its language, was generally applicable, the U.S. Bank was the only out-of-state bank then existing in Maryland, and the law is generally recognized as specifically targeting the U.S. Bank. The Court invoked the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, which allowed the Federal government to pass laws not expressly provided for in the U.S. Constitution's list of express powers as long as those laws are in useful furtherance of the express powers.
This fundamental case established the following two principles:
- The Constitution grants to Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution's express powers
- State action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government
Justice Clarence Thomas has cited this precedent "to emphasize that the Tenth Amendment affirms the undeniable notion that under our Constitution, the Federal Government is one of enumerated, hence limited, powers. See, e.g., McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 405, 4 L. Ed. 579 (1819) ("This government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers"). "That those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written." Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 1 Cranch 137, 176, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803). Accordingly, the Federal Government may act only where the Constitution authorizes it to do so. Cf. New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 120 L. Ed. 2d 120, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992)."
- Printz v. United States (1997) (Thomas, J., concurring)