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MBE Question of the Day – Answer
(B) is the correct answer.
Issue: Whether an act of Congress concerning Washington D.C. is valid and trumps a local
ordinance by the city council.
Rule: Under the Property Clause of Article IV, Congress has power over the “property” of the
United States. It is implied that Congressional power of property includes plenary power over: (i)
Federal highway lands; (ii) National parks and forests (including laws on protection of species);
(iii) Military installations; (iv) Foreign embassies and consulates; and (v) Washington, D.C.
Under the Supremacy Clause, the states may only act in areas that the federal government has
not, or where the state statute augments a federal statute. A state (or local) law that conflicts with
a federal law is invalid under the Supremacy Clause.
Analysis: In the present case, D.C. passed an ordinance, but Congress passed a conflicting one.
Because Congress has exclusive power over Washington D.C., and the federal law conflicts with
a local law, the federal law governs per the Supremacy Clause.
(B) is correct because it recognizes Congress’s plenary power over Washington D.C.
(A) is incorrect because though a correct statement, (B) provides the best answer as it is more
precise. Congress not only has power over the District of Columbia, its power is absolute,
meaning any conflicting local law will be invalidated.
(C) is incorrect as a statement of law; Congress holds that exclusive power.
(D) is incorrect because Congress has power over interstate commerce and may pass
legislation that unduly burdens interstate commerce. Note that the Commerce Clause includes
the power to regulate the channels of commerce such as highways. Here it is not clear that
Pennsylvania Avenue would qualify as a “channel of commerce” and so it is unclear whether
Congress would otherwise have power to regulate it under the Commerce Clause (otherwise, the
activity described is too local in nature to be said to have an effect on interstate commerce). But,
since regulation of the street falls under Congress’s power over Washington D.C., this is not an issue.