How will you know if the present congress is overstepping its bounds if you don't know what restraints were placed on congress by the Constitution? In an earlier blog, I listed the 17 things congress can do, so I felt I should also list what it cannot.
From Article 1, Section 9
1. Congress may not interfere with migration between the states, nor the importation of slaves – at least not until 1808. But even before then, a tax (or duty) of up to $10 per slave may be imposed.
2. The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus may not be suspended except in time of revolution or invasion.
3. No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.
4. No direct tax shall be laid. (nullified by the 16th amendment)
5. No tax or duty shall be laid on any articles exported from any state.
6. No preference shall be shown the ports of one state over another. No vessel traveling from one state to another shall be obliged to pay a duty.
7. No funds may be drawn from the Treasury without an appropriation in Congress. An accounting of all public money shall be published from time to time.
8. No titles of nobility may be granted by the U.S. And no public office-holder who is getting paid may receive gifts, money, office or title from a foreign country without the approval of congress.
There you have it, only half as long as the previous list. And this one sounds like it was written by lawyers. I'll wade through these as best I can (Ryan, you may correct anywhere I'm off base)
A Writ of Habeas Corpus is like a court order, demanding the government prove it has good reason to detain (imprison) someone. Habeas Corpus is Latin for, “you have the body.” President Lincoln, famously, suspended Habeas Corpus during the Civil War. His actions are, strangely, compared to the actives of George W. Bush after 9/11 in this piece at CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/04/08/civil.war.today/index.html
A Bill of Attainder was used in English law to yank titles, land and castles etc. away from noblemen accused of serious crimes. The king didn't even need the bother of a trial.
An Ex Post Facto (“after the fact,” in Latin of course) law would retroactively impose legal consequences. For example, you can't write a law today that would result in the arrest of someone for what he/she did yesterday (when it was legal).
I have heard it said that when President Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, he was in violation of paragraph #8, since he did not petition congress for approval before accepting the money associated with the prize. But since it comes from a committee instead of directly from the Norwegian government (NOTE: only the Peace Prize comes from Norway, all others come from Sweden), I don't see a problem.