What Are Tenth Amendment Rights?
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.
The Tenth Amendment rounds out and completes the Bill of Rights, which are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It does not grant or protect specific rights as do the first eight amendments. Instead, the amendment addresses the question of who gets to claim the powers not granted to the federal government. As with the Ninth Amendment, the framers of the Constitution sought to quell fears of an all-powerful central government grabbing powers and rights from wherever it could get them.
Background and historical perspective
The Tenth Amendment was ratified in 1791. It came about four years after delegates at the Constitutional Convention voted to reject the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution. The federalists, who favored creation of a national government to govern alongside the states, believed the powers granted to the new government were limited only to those granted to it by the Constitution.
On the other side of the aisle were the antifederalists standing in opposition to creation of a strong national government. Antifederalists did not trust the new government and believed it would take power and use it to limit the rights of its citizens and the ability of states to govern. Persuading the antifederalists to accept a document that did not include a bill of rights was accomplished by federalists agreeing to amend the Constitution as soon after its approval by the states as possible.
The first session of Congress following ratification of the Constitution kept the promise made by the federalists by sending 12 amendments to the states for approval. The 10 amendments ratified by the states in 1791 became the Bill of Rights.
Purpose of the Tenth Amendment
The Tenth Amendment seeks to make it clear the national government is a government with only those powers granted to it as are stated or enumerated in the Constitution. It also prevents the Bill of Rights from being interpreted as limiting the rights and powers of individuals and the states.
The division of powers between the states and the federal government reflects a belief that state governments and state officials are closer to their citizens and in a better position to govern and be accountable to them. Limiting the power of the federal government to issues requiring a national as opposed to a local focus resulted in the following powers being reserved to the federal government:
- Control of interstate commerce
- Entering into treaties with foreign governments
- Ability to declare war
- Implementation and control of a national currency
Application of the Tenth Amendment today
An issue currently in the news addresses the police powers of the states. The Constitution reserves to the states power to enact and enforce criminal laws pertaining to activities within their state borders. When some states enacted laws legalizing the use of marijuana, it put them into direct conflict with federal laws making production, sale and possession of the drug illegal.
A constitutional confrontation was averted when the federal government agreed not to enforce federal drug laws regarding marijuana in those states that have legalized it. However, an agreement is not law, so the issue of the power of states over their drug laws and their citizens could end up in court if the federal officials decide to enforce federal laws and the states claim a violation of the Tenth Amendment.