Tenth Amendment Facts 

The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791. It is the final amendment of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments.

The Tenth Amendment says that the federal government only has the powers that are listed in the Constitution. Any power that is not listed in the Constitution belongs to the states and/or the people.

What does the Tenth Amendment say?

“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.”

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Why was the Tenth Amendment created?

One of the main purposes of the Constitution was to make sure that the federal government didn’t have too much power.

After fighting for freedom from the powerful and controlling British government, the people of the United States wanted to prevent the same issues from happening again in the future.

The Bill of Rights outlines the rights of the people that cannot be taken away by the federal government.

The Tenth Amendment prevents the federal government from trying to expand its powers beyond the powers granted by the Constitution. If a power is not granted, it belongs to the states or the people.

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Federal Government vs. State Governments

The federal government is the national government of the United States. It includes the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court.

Each state also has its own government. State governments are made up of a governor, a law-making body that is usually divided into two parts, and state courts.

Powers of the Federal Government vs. Powers of the States

Some of the federal government’s powers are:

  • Declaring war
  • Maintaining the armed forces
  • Making treaties and conducting foreign policy
  • Printing money
  • Regulating commerce between the states
  • Establishing post offices
  • Other powers needed to carry out the laws of the Constitution, as long as these powers are “necessary and proper”

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Some powers that belong to the state governments include:

  • Issuing licenses (like driver’s and marriage licenses)
  • Regulating commerce within the state
  • Conducting elections
  • Local business laws
  • Building and maintaining roads and schools
  • Taking measures for public health and safety
  • Other powers the Constitution doesn’t grant to the federal government or prohibit the states from using

Both the federal government and state governments can:

  • Collect taxes
  • Borrow money
  • Build roads
  • Make and enforce laws
  • Charter banks and corporations
  • Spend money for the good of the people
  • Take private property for the good of the general public (with just compensation)

Tenth Amendment Court Cases

Tenth Amendment Court Cases

For about two centuries, the Supreme Court’s opinion was that federal powers could be determined only by studying the Constitution’s enumerated powers (the powers listed and described in the Constitution).

But starting in 1976, several cases have involved the federal government regulating or commanding state governments:

Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority: The Court ruled that a city is required to follow federal labor laws.

New York v. United States: The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government does have the authority to regulate state waste management.

Printz v. United States: This ruling demonstrated that state or local executive officials can be forced to implement federal laws.

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South Dakota v. Dole: The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has the right to withhold federal funds from states who do not comply with federal laws.

(In this case, South Dakota’s drinking age was 19 instead of the federally-mandated 21, so some of the money the state was supposed to receive for building highways was withheld.)

Do any of these rulings violate the Tenth Amendment? Some people think so, but the Supreme Court disagrees.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court has not used the Tenth Amendment to protect individual citizens against the exercise of federal power.

Other Interesting Facts About the Tenth Amendment

Similar to the ruling in South Dakota v. Dole, the federal government sometimes uses federal funding to convince states to follow federal programs.

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States sometimes cite the Tenth Amendment as a reason they don’t have to follow some federal laws.

The Tenth Amendment is part of the balance of powers in the United States, which makes sure that no individual or group of people has too much power.

Power is spread through different branches of federal and state government that can check and balance one another.

The Tenth Amendment is one of the most clearly and simply worded amendments to the Constitution. It emphasizes the limited nature of federal government.

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According to the Tenth Amendment, the first question about federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights. The first question is whether it exceeds the limited power of the federal government.

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