What are Concurrent Powers?

Devon Denomme, Stephen Benz, Lesley Chapel
  • Author
    Devon Denomme

    Devon has tutored for almost two years. They have a Bachelor's in Air Traffic Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and minored in Aviation Safety and Homeland Security. They also are AT-CTI certified.

  • Instructor
    Stephen Benz

    Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

  • Expert Contributor
    Lesley Chapel

    Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Learn the definition of concurrent powers and review examples. Understand how concurrent powers are delineated between federal and state governments within the US constitution. Updated: 09/08/2021

Table of Contents


Concurrent Powers

In the United States, the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government is an important constitutional aspect of the country's political makeup. Another distinction is between the powers of the federal government and the state governments. In some instances, the Constitution of the United States dictates that both federal and state governments have an equal balance of powers.

What are concurrent powers, and why are they important? Concurrent powers are defined as powers shared by both state and federal governing bodies. The powers are not exclusive and held by both levels of government. The system is part of a concept known as dual sovereignty, meaning that while states have relinquished many powers to the federal government, they also have kept some powers which they exercise in conjunction with those used by the federal government. Dual sovereignty is part of the broader two-level system of government known as federalism.

Concurrent Powers in the Constitution

These shared powers between the federal government and state governments are outlined in the U.S. Constitution. This legislation delegates that while in most cases a state government will follow the rulings of the national governing body, there are times when they may exercise concurrent powers simultaneously within the same territory on the same group of citizens. Concurrent powers may be used to keep people safe, discourage crime, or improve the economy.

Think of the concept of concurrent powers as a measure of double-insurance enforcing a rule of law. For example, taxation can be used by both state and federal governments. Both the local economy and the national economy must have a source of revenue, which gets paid through taxes--a concurrent power using double-insurance--allowing each governing body the ability to spend money and regulate the economy resulting from taxation.

Concurrent powers are delegated to federal and state governments in the U.S. Constitution. They can be found in numerous locations.

concurrent powers definition

The specifics of concurrent powers appear multiple times in the Constitution. The Supremacy Clause, Article I, Section 8, and the 10th Amendment all relate to the concept of concurrent powers. The following sections will explore the specific and significant details of concurrent powers in these articles and amendments.

The Supremacy Clause

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is also known as the Supremacy Clause. This article details how the Constitution is the official governing document of the nation and when federal law comes into conflict with state law, federal law supersedes state law, making states follow the preeminent rules of the national government. The concept of federal pre-emption was created to mitigate conflict between the states and the federal government, since both may exercise similar or concurrent powers at the same time.

An example of a beneficial federal pre-emption is when federal laws established pharmaceutical drug labelling standards. This ruling required detailed drug information to be provided for healthcare professionals as well as uniformed standards for the purchase of over-the-counter drugs. Before 2006 and 1999, states individually set standards and boundaries for pharmaceutical companies and businesses to follow when informing healthcare professionals and customers of a medication's ingredients and directions. Following a trial, the federal government decided the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would set the minimum standard for labelling medicines, ensuring all states must followed these standards regardless of their laws. Federal domain overriding state laws was established in 1787 through the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Article I, Section 8

Concurrent powers in Article I, Section 8 delegate and give authority to the powers of the federal government, known as enumerated powers, to collect taxes and duties, import fees, pay debts, raise armies, and regulate commerce. These are just a few of the enumerated powers. Though Article I, Section 8 does not delegate state powers, federal and state governments share a few of these named enumerated powers.

10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution delegates and reserves specific powers to the states. This is the final amendment in the Bill of Rights. Similar to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the 10th Amendment explains the powers possessed by state governments. State governments' authority is known as reserved powers, which may conflict with the interests of the federal government. State governments legislate for the state and govern more locally.

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Prompts About Concurrent Powers:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of at least two to three paragraphs that defines concurrent powers and explains the concept of eminent domain and how it is a concurrent power.

Example: Concurrent powers operating under the concept of eminent domain mean that states and the federal government can take private property for public use.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately two to three paragraphs, write an essay that explains concurrent powers as they relate to borrowing money. Be sure to include quantitative analysis in your essay, using figures such as those that relate to the national debt.

Example: Like the federal government, states have the right to borrow money and thus accrue debt. However, the majority of states have laws in place that ensure that the budget remains balanced.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay that describes concurrent powers as they relate to the court system and crime and punishment.

Example: States and the federal government share the power of being able to make laws and define crimes.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Create a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that explains the state and federal right to levy taxes. Be sure that your graphic organizer enumerates which types of items the federal government and the states can tax.

Example: There are federal and state sales taxes.

What are concurrent powers in the US?

Concurrent powers exist in the United States to serve as a separation of powers. In the government system of federalism that the United States utilizes, two-levels of government exist: the federal government and many state governments. Concurrent powers ensure that both governing bodies have input to critical decisions that effect the people and so that one body may not hold too much authority over the other.

What is the meaning of concurrent power?

A concurrent power is a power or authority shared by both the federal government and state governments. Concurrent powers are outlined in the United States Constitution and can be found in the Supremacy Clause, Article I Section 8, and the 10th Amendment.

Why are there concurrent powers?

Concurrent powers exist to create a balance between the federal government and state governments. They may be used to keep people safe, discourage crime, or improve the economy.

What are 5 examples of concurrent powers?

There are a number of powers that both state governments and the federal governments share. Among the most important include the ability to levy taxes (income tax, property tax, etc.), the right to borrow money on credit, the power to establish courts under the Supreme court, the right of eminent domain, and the ability to define crime and set punishments.

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