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The Tenth Amendment – Rights Reserved To States or The People

Newsletter | March 10, 2022

10th amendment

After heated disagreements and much debate, the framers of our Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, established a system of government constrained by limitations to best protect the God-given individual rights of freedom and liberties of its citizens. Two centuries later, these vital documents still shape our daily lives. There is no greater base of knowledge for Americans than to understand how their government operates and to know their rights as citizens.

Our series on the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the Constitution – covers the Tenth Amendment this week. This amendment articulates the principle of federalism, or states’ rights. The Tenth Amendment states that the federal government has only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution, and that all other governmental powers are reserved to each state.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

To best understand the meaning of the Tenth Amendment, it’s useful to study it in the context of the debate over the Bill of Rights, itself.

In our discussion of the Ninth Amendment, we noted how two schools of thought debated how best to protect individual rights against tyranny and corrupt governments.  The Anti-Federalists argued that a government in the future might claim that God-given rights of the people did not exist if they were not already enumerated as guaranteed.   The concern was that over time, a rapacious government might try to seize those rights for itself.  Therefore, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are tethered together to prevent broadening the specific powers granted to our federal government.  To that end, these two amendments combined provide catch-alls to clarify that powers not specifically identified as powers enjoyed by the federal government remain rights of the states and the people.

Certain framers of the Constitution believed that a Bill of Rights was not necessary to limit the powers of the central or federal government they envisioned. After the Constitution was ratified, several congressional representatives proposed amendments to “expressly” deny existence of implied federal government powers and forbid the federal government from unjustifiably expanding its reach.

James Madison, the primary drafter of both the Ninth and Tenth Amendment, stated that “it was impossible to confine a Government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the Constitution descended to recount every minutia.”  The Tenth Amendment was crafted, therefore, to resolve the different positions, and Madison introduced the Tenth Amendment reasoning that it “…can be no harm in making such a declaration…” And so, the Tenth Amendment serves to emphasize the notion that the inclusion of the Bill of Rights does not change the nature of the federal government created by the Constitution. It remains a government of limited powers.  (A number of states ratified the Constitution only with the understanding that it would quickly be amended to include a Bill of Rights.)

Practically speaking and from a current day perspective, we, as Americans, should not take for granted our right to move freely; to live in whichever state we choose. Undoubtedly, we choose where to live in the United States based on personal reasons and many factors, including whether the laws of a chosen state mirror certain values held by the individual considering relocation. Most countries do not have such a wide variety of local (state) laws.  Take England for example.  If you live in northern England and you don’t like the laws there, it makes no difference if you move to southern England.  In America, if you live in Rhode Island and decide you don’t like the laws, you can move to Florida and be governed by an entirely different set of state laws and by different state officials. The Tenth Amendment is the underlying principle that reserved rights to the states and to the people with the goal of limiting the federal government’s control and reducing the risk of unbridled corruption. 

In this week’s Reader’s Survey, we ask readers to share their thoughts about the Bill of Rights and to imagine our country if they did not exist. Please click the button below to let us know what you think. Once again, we are grateful for your thoughtful responses and appreciate your time. Thank you! 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the Constitution was ratified, states have approved 27 amendments, including the first ten – the Bill of Rights. As we know, to amend the Constitution, a requisite number of states must ratify the proposed change – not Congress. Each has its own story and all are historically important. America’s Future is committed to educating and sharing information about America’s exceptionalism. The Constitution and Bill of Rights and all future amendments are part of the reason. We will continue to feature the stories behind those amendments adopted throughout the years, as well as additional highlights, traditions and principles that make this country the greatest nation in the world.

America’s Great Equalizer  – Your Vote

Voting is the great equalizer in America. Every vote is equally worthy and holds the same weight. Primaries are already underway in various states and efforts continue to ensure the integrity of our election process. Recent reports that hundreds of thousands of ballots in the Texas primaries were “flagged for rejection” for identification discrepancies make it more imperative than ever to check that your registration information is properly recorded in your local community. Voting is sacrosanct in this nation – never to be taken for granted. If you are not yet registered to vote, take the time to do so today because your vote counts!

America’s Future Joins Petitioner In Case Arguing Against ‘Cancel Culture’

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, nine nonprofit organizations joined America’s Future in connection with the Amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) concerning Heltzel v Youngkin, No. 21-1084 (2022).

America’s Future filed in support of the Petitioner Janet Heltzel, et al. who was fighting against “cancel culture,” more specifically against the destruction of the Lee Monument, a Virginia statue of Robert E. Lee, erected in 1890 on land conveyed, by contract, to the Lee Monument Association reserving a portion solely to serve as the venue of the Robert E. Lee’s statue.  The Lee Monument stood for 130 years. On June 4, 2020, Ralph Northam, the former governor of Virginia, announced the removal of the statue following desecration of the monument with vile statements like “F*** Cops.”  Upon notice to the community, the former governor approved removal of the statue, and litigation began.

Procedurally, the petitioner in this case was initially granted injunctive relief late in the summer of 2020.  Eventually, however, on September 2, 2021, the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia affirmed the state’s intermediate appellate court’s decision to dismiss the case.  Now that this case is in front of the SCOTUS, the highest Court in our land has an opportunity to “restore the Rule of Law in one important area — preserving the obligation of contracts from abrogation by arbitrary state government action.” America’s Future and the other amici organizations contend, “[t]hat the Contract Clause [located in Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of the Constitution] should apply even to the Governor’s [former Virginia governor Ralph Northam] unilateral actions, just as the First Amendment’s admonition that ‘Congress shall make no law,’ applies to the Executive [Branch] as well.” Any infringement on the rights of any one American, is infringement on the rights of an entire nation and that can not stand. America’s Future is committed to protecting the individual rights of all citizens and preserving our Constitutional Republic. We will keep readers up-to-date on our organization’s legal filings and other advocacy efforts. A review of the First Amendment is included in our Bill of Rights series available here.

Champion Leaders Lead The Way

The true power in the fight for freedom rests in the hearts and souls of determined, active citizens willing to come together with one voice. Our Founding Fathers led the way as visionary champions for the future of this country. Join America’s Future Champion For America community to follow in their footsteps. It is our turn to be the force that passes the torch of freedom to the next generation. Click here to learn more and join today to receive a special gift of appreciation in addition to your membership package, including a Champion t-shirt and other members-only benefits.

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