Weighing in at just twenty-eight words, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a vital part of our Supreme Law of the Land. It reads:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
These twenty-eight words are simple, forceful, and to the point. They are clear and leave no room for confusion or alternate interpretations. Yet, these words are continually ignored by many within our federal government. After more than a century of violating the Tenth Amendment, the bulk of government power no longer resides with the States and the People but is instead squarely in the corner of the federal government. This should not be.
Several writers have provided valuable insights regarding this significant loss of liberty. One such is Dr. Archie Jones of The American Vision. In his article entitled “The Liberty Amendment,” he builds a powerful case for a literal interpretation of the Tenth Amendment and demonstrates the safeguards within it that work to preserve the liberties of the States and the People:
No fundamental provision of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights is more neglected—or thoroughly violated—today than the Tenth Amendment. It is violated in spirit and in practice. Its violation is advocated implicitly and explicitly: in the teaching of American history and government, in legal theory, in what passes for “Constitutional Law,” and in the functioning of everyday American politics and government.
Our Constitution—as the very words of the Tenth Amendment make clear—was intended to be a delegated powers document. The states which formed and ratified the Constitution were free and independent states—nations—which delegated certain authority and powers to the new central or national government created by the Constitution. They delegated—and manifestly intended to delegate—only those powers stated in the Constitution: and no more. They forbade themselves certain other powers which they also stated in Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution.
By clear intention and unmistakable logic the several states entrusted no more authority or powers to the central government which their representatives had created. All other authority and powers which the states had had before they ratified the Constitution they retained to themselves—and intended to retain to themselves.
The Constitution therefore is also a reserved powers document. The powers which the states have neither forbidden to themselves in the Constitution nor delegated to the central government in the Constitution are reserved to the states. These powers are “reserved to the States respectively”: they are reserved to each respective state.
These reserved powers are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This does not mean that they are reserved to the people of the nation as a whole, for that would mean that they are delegated to the central government—and would make the Tenth Amendment meaningless and ridiculous. The reserved powers are reserved to the people of the respective states. The powers which the government of each state or the people of that state have not delegated to the central government are reserved to the people or government of each state.
The neglected, abused, violated Tenth Amendment is much more than an amendment to our Constitution, much more than the final amendment to the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment is the anchor and guarantee of federalism, a fundamental and essential principle of the Constitution—a principle insisted upon by the states whose representatives framed and ratified the Constitution.
It protects the self-government of the people of each state by protecting the powers which the state has neither assigned to the central government nor forbidden to itself in the Constitution. It thus protects each state’s authority and freedom to govern itself as its people and their representatives see fit (so long as they do not set up a non-republican form of civil government or violate the Constitution’s prohibitions of certain powers to them).
Dr. Jones goes on to point out that the Constitutional system of checks and balances created within the federal government is actually extended across governments to provide extra safeguards for liberty. In short, the federal government is to be checked and balanced by the governments of the States:
The famous system of separation of powers, with accompanying checks and balances between and among the three branches of our central/national government, was intended to protect liberty and justice by preventing the concentration of power, and consequent abuses of power and usurpations of power, in any one branch of the national government. Federalism, Madison tells us, is a system of separation of powers and checks and balances between the central or national government and the state governments. So important is federalism’s separation of powers with accompanying checks and balances between the central government and the state governments that federalism provides us “a double security to liberty.”
Dr. Jones points out that the Tenth Amendment was ratified to permanently create a balanced and limited federal government. He correctly argues that the Tenth Amendment must be followed if the federal government is to be restrained to its Constitutional role:
The Tenth Amendment was intended to make it clear that federalism is to remain basic to our Constitution and constitutional law. No fundamental provision of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights needs more urgently to be restored to its rightful place in our civil government and law.
Restoration of the Tenth Amendment to its rightful place in American political thought, constitutional law, and civil government is a necessary condition of the restoration of justice and freedom in America.
As voters and citizens we must demand that our federal government be restrained and subject to the limitations of the Tenth Amendment. Likewise we must demand that the States and the People retake their rightful place within our federal system. It is wrong to ignore and disobey the Constitution. The amendment process provides a sufficient tool-set for addressing perceived shortcomings; however, before proceeding down that path, one should consider that many of the issues currently handled by the federal government could be addressed more effectively at the state and/or local levels where Constitutional prohibitions against government involvement do not exist.
Additional Information on the Tenth Amendment
Tenth Amendment Center – provides a wealth of articles and resources