Nationwide protests have generated renewed interest in the issue of reforming the policing practices of state and local officials. As discussed in more detail in this companion sidebar, several existing federal laws seek to prevent and redress constitutional violations by state and local law enforcement officials. However, because the Constitution generally grants states the authority to regulate issues of local concern—which includes policing and criminal law—Congress is limited in its ability to legislate on matters related to state and local law enforcement—limits that may inform any new laws Congress seeks to enact on this evolving issue.
This Sidebar begins with an overview of Congress’s authority to enact legislation and the limits on those powers. It then discussesin more detail two of the enumerated powers—congressional powers that are found within the Constitution—that may be most relevant when Congress legislates on matters relating to state and local law enforcement.