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Interpreting the Tenth Amendment

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The tenth amendment is one that is frequently cited by Conservatives who are champions of states’ rights over the power of the federal government. However, their interpretation of the amendment’s words is an opportunistic and skewed one. Right-wing pundits would claim that the amendment was designed to give more power to the states than the federal government, because the Founding Fathers intended for the union of the states to be a loose one and treated central government with suspicion.

However, this is not the correct interpretation of the tenth amendment, which was included to appease the people of the states who had to ratify the constitution and demanded a Bill of Rights. It was the people of the state who were wary of central government becoming too powerful; therefore to ease their fears the founders included a mostly irrelevant line that sounds like a grand gesture to increase the rights of states. Really, it does not change very much. As Justice John Marshall said in the court opinion of the Supreme Court case Gibbons v. Ogden, the powers that are expressly given to the federal government have no restrictions upon them other than the ones that are also specifically written in the constitution. This he said to clarify that the federal government’s power to regulate interstate trade was absolute over the states’ respective powers to regulate their own commerce. The federal government is supreme over the laws of the states.

Therefore, the necessary and proper clause of the constitution has more credence than the tenth amendment. Because the elastic clause gives the federal government the power to regulate or otherwise manage all “necessary and proper” matters that are not expressly given to the federal government, and the tenth amendment gives all powers that aren’t expressly given to the federal government to the states, there is an apparent contradiction. However, when the supremacy clause is taken into account, there is no doubt that the elastic clause is supreme over the tenth amendment. Therefore, it does not truly award some great scope of untapped power to the states; rather, it gave the people of the original thirteen states sufficient peace of mind to ratify the constitution.

The tenth amendment is merely a truism that added nothing to the constitution as it was written. As it was said in U.S. v Darby:
The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers.....
Although the language of many parts of the constitution fosters differences in interpretations of its meaning, it is now widely accepted that the tenth amendment is not something that would allow the states more rights than they exercise today or allow nullification and other such power-seeking maneuvers by the states.

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gonegirl said...
Apr. 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm
I'm quite concerned about your point that the 10th amendment was just put in to appease the people--by that argument so was the 1st amendment--are you prepared to make that same argument?>
iluvwriting This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 8:29 am
I'm sorry, but who are you to say that this interpretation is wrong? I may or may not agree with you, but I hate it when people say that they're right, others are wrong. How are you supposed to know?
remym This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm
It's my opinion. we are not allowed to use I, but "I think" is implied.
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