In our last “Constitution Post,” Julia discussed the Coinage and Weights and Measures Clauses. This week, we will wrap up the monetary discussion wth a discussion of the Counterfeiting Clause.
The Counterfeiting Clause
So, without further ado, let’s look at the text of the Counterfeiting Clause:
The Congress shall have Power To…provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States…
Let’s start with a quick definition. The word securities references certificates “…attesting credit, the ownership of stocks or bonds, or the right to ownership connected with tradable derivatives.” Essentially, securities are simply certificates and other things that indicate assets, monetary or otherwise.
The federal crime of producing counterfeit money or securities is punishable by up to twenty years in prison and a fine, and the use or attempted use of counterfeit money or securities is the same. Even the mere possession of counterfeit money or securities is also the same.
Given Congress’s power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures…,” the Counterfeiting Clause seems very sensible. In other words, it makes sense that Congress (as opposed to the States) would have the power to prescribe the punishment for violation of a law they promulgated. Indeed, at the Constitutional Convention, this Clause passed unanimously.
In addition, David F. Forte, a Professor of Law at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, writes “…the Framers lodged all the incidents of the foreign-affairs power in the national government. Counterfeiting of foreign securities was a serious breach of international comity. The clause empowers Congress to deal with an important element of the nation’s international obligations.” In other words, since foreign affairs are the jurisdiction of the federal government, and counterfeiting could involve foreign currency, the Framers believed that the federal government should have the power to prescribe the punishment for counterfeiting.
At this point, it is important to note, that, while the States cannot coin money, perform any of the other operations described in the Coinage and Weights and Measures Clauses, nor promulgate laws pertaining to the act of producing counterfeit money or securities; the Constitution does not prohibit the States from implementing their own prohibitions on, and punishments for, using (usually called “passing” or “uttering”) counterfeit money or securities (State v. Tutt, Fox v. Ohio). In fact, many states have laws relating to this very issue. In those states, using counterfeit money or securities is punishable by both state and federal law.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about this aspect of constitutional government. There are many other reasons for the Counterfeiting Clause that are too extensive to cover in this article. I hope you’ll study them yourself!
Photo Credit: pixabay.com
U.S. Constitution — Article I, Section 8:
Punishment for counterfeiting U.S. currency:
David F. Forte, Heritage Foundation Constitution Essays, “Counterfeiting”:
Definitions of securities:
State v. Tutt:
Fox v. Ohio: