When you hear about states’ rights, or federalism, it is the Tenth Amendment, the last amendment in our Bill of Rights that protects the rights of states.
The amendment states: “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 doctrine of federalism is a fundamental principle in our governance, and the Tenth Amendment serves as a critical safeguard by giving protection to the sovereignty of states and even our individual freedoms. It creates a balance of power between the federal government and the states.
The Tenth Amendment was signed in 1791 to address concerns by Federalists that a list of rights might imply that the federal government had more powers than those explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.
The Tenth Amendment allows states to make their own laws without direct interference from the federal government. But that’s not to say the government doesn’t have an avenue to address state laws it doesn’t like. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice is suing Idaho over its near-total abortion ban.
Over the years, the Tenth Amendment has helped shape the U.S. legal landscape. Here are two legal cases that have used the Tenth Amendment:
In New York v. United States (1992), the Supreme Court held that the federal government could not commandeer state governments to enforce federal regulations. The case involved a federal law that required states to either take title to low-level radioactive waste or regulate in accordance with federal standards. The Court ruled that such commandeering violated the principles of federalism enshrined in the Tenth Amendment, as it exceeded the powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution and undermined the sovereignty of the states.
In Printz v. United States (1997), the Supreme Court further clarified the limitations on federal authority under the Tenth Amendment. The case challenged provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that required local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers. The Court struck down these provisions, stating that they violated the principles of federalism by compelling state and local officials to administer a federal program, thus intruding on state sovereignty.
The Tenth Amendment protects the ability of states to serve as laboratories of democracy, where diverse policy approaches can be tested and tailored to the needs of their respective populations.
The amendment also safeguards individual liberties by recognizing that the ultimate power truly resides with the people.
This is the last editorial in our series Know Your Rights, which has covered all 10 amendments in our Bill of Rights. We will end this civics lesson here. I hope you have enjoyed it and found it informative. All comments and editorials, as well as suggestions for future topics, can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com.
By Toni Shah, Staff Writer