Did you know that there is a general rule of thumb in baseball that will help you understand whether the federal government can constitutionally exercise a certain power, even in in the most legally complex situations?

In a baseball game, a tie always goes to the runner. If the baseman catches the ball at the same moment the batter steps on the bag, the runner gets the benefit of the doubt and the ump will call, “Safe!”

This rule of thumb gives the umpire a general principle to fall back on in a “too close to call” situation.

A similar rule of thumb comes into play when it comes to interpreting the constitutional powers of the federal government. The benefit of the doubt always goes to the states and the people – not the feds.

St. George Tucker was well-known Virginia jurist and legal scholar and he wrote the first extended, systematic commentary on the Constitution after ratification. View of the Constitution of the United States,was published in 1803 and served as an important handbook for American law students, lawyers, judges, jurists and statesmen for the first half of the 19th century. Tucker emphasized this importance of this rule of construction.

The powers delegated to the federal government, are, in all cases, to receive the most strict construction that the instrument [Constitution] will bear, where the rights of a state or of the people, either collectively or individually, may be drawn in question.”

In other words, if you have the choice of interpreting a given constitutional provision in a way that gives the federal government more power, or in a way that gives it less power, you should always err on the side of limiting federal authority.

When it comes to federal powers, the states and the people always get the benefit of the doubt.

Photo by: Nate Freiman (SD DirkFlickr)