How to Understand States’ Rights in the Context of the Federal Government

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The 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution proclaims that ‘[t]he 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’. Various court cases help to define the application of the 10th Amendment. McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819) established that states may not prohibit or affect the execution of the legitimate execution of constitutional power by the Federal government. United States v. Sprague, 282 U.S. 716 (1931) pertained the lawful ratification of an Amendment to the Constitution by state legislators. United States v. Darby, 312 U.S. 100 (1941) established that intrastate commerce activities may be prohibited by the Federal government if such activities affect interstate commerce. In New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government could not take over state legislative or regulatory processes.

States can petition Congress for the application of Constitutional Amendments (U.S. Constitution – Article 5). Additionally, several states have created resolutions reminding the Federal government that mandates beyond its scope are unforceable. These states include Alaska and Texas recently (Tenth Amendment Center, 2009,, Since these are resolutions, they are unenforceable. The 10th Amendment limits the Federal governments’ scope of creating and enforcing laws that involve powers delegated to the states. Additionally, Congress can not make laws which prohibiting free speech or the exercise of religion (U. S. Constitution 1st Amendment). Additional power granted to the Federal government by the Constitution include matters of currency, interstate commerce, the post office, the judiciary, and national defense. All other powers should be retained by the people and the states (U.S. Constitution – 9th and 10th Amendments). Such is not the case. The Federal government has enormous powers to influence education, the environment, businesses, employment, and a wide range of activities and interest areas.


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