In regards to being inconsistent, the Supreme Court would read the Necessary and Proper Clause narrowly in Hepburn v. Griswald (1870).
Now, here’s the facts. While paying a promissory note five days before the issuance of United States notes, Mrs. Hepburn (Defendant) paid a debt to Henry Griswald (Plaintiff). However, he would not accept payment and sued. The case made it’s way through the Louisville Chancery Court, the Court of Errors of Kentucky, and the Supreme Court.
Hepburn presented this issue: Is the federal government’s paper money constitutional?
In regards to holding, here’s what the Supreme Court said: Various provisions of the Legal Tender Act are unconstitutional.
When it came to Congress’s power, the dissent reads the Necessary and Proper Clause broadly in this case like past precedents. Historically, Chief Justice Marshall reads the Necessary but Proper Clause broadly in Mcculloch v. Maryland; that is, as a necessary and proper instance of the commerce power, Congress can charter a bank. Further, Justice Story reads the Necessary and Clause broadly in Prigg v. Pennsylvania; that is, as a Necessary and Proper instance, the Fugitive Slave Act is constitutional under Article 4. In the dissent’s reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause, the Hepburn case remains consistent with the past Supreme Court readings of the Necessary and Proper Clause.
By today’s standards, Prigg v. Pennsylvania would be a horrible reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause. Basically, it opened up slavery and prevented Northern states from freeing slaves. However, Prigg was a consistent reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Marshall Court in Mcculloch v. Maryland.
Nevertheless, the majority reads the Necessary and Proper Clause narrowly. For the majority, the Congress can make war, but making notes legal tender was not necessary to fighting a war. This case is consistent with the Chase Court’s reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Dewitt case.
Noteworthy, the Supreme Courts wouldn’t define the “Proper” part of the Necessary but Proper Clause until NFIB v. Sebellius (2012). Here, they said the individual mandate was not a proper use of Congress’ Commerce Clause or Necessary and Proper powers.
In summary, the Supreme Court remains inconsistent with the Hepburn case. They ruled paper money was unconstitutional. In time, the Court would return to a broad reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Knox case. Also, the Legal Tender cases would overrule Hepburn. Nonetheless, the Court goes up and down with their readings of the Necessary and Proper Clause over the years.