Some people ask us, “Does the Tenth Amendment even matter anymore?”
Thomas Jefferson called the Tenth Amendment the “foundation” of the Constitution.
The Tenth doesn’t add anything to the Constitution, but it makes explicit what was already implicit in the American constitutional structure – that the federal government is limited to specific enumerated powers. All other powers remain with the states and the people.
This bears repeating. The federal government is limited.
Jefferson went on to say, “To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.”
Sadly, the federal government has strayed much further than a “single step” beyond its delegated authority. You can measure the distance in miles.
So, why does the Tenth Amendment even matter anymore? Because it reminds us of an important truth.
The states and the people have power.
And we can use put the federal government back within its proper bounds.
It’s important to remember that words on parchment don’t enforce themselves. Just because we say the federal government is limited doesn’t mean it will stay limited. That’s pretty obvious, right? But the founding generation never intended the Tenth Amendment to be self-enforcing. They didn’t expect that the federal government would read the Tenth Amendment and say, “Oh, OK. We won’t cross the line.” They expected the states and the people to take action when the federal government oversteps its bounds.
James Madison provided us with a blueprint in Federalist #46. He said a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union,” would “present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”
Yes. State actions can obstruct the federal government. They can nullify unwarrantable federal actions in effect, or as Madison noted, even warrantable actions that happen to be unpopular.
How can this be?
Because the federal government relies on state and local cooperation to do almost everything it does. The feds cannot implement all of their programs, or enforce all of the laws, edicts and regulations, without state help. They simply lack the resources. When the states refuse to cooperate, the feds are pretty much stuck in the mud.
So yes. The Tenth Amendment matters. It provides a springboard for action. It creates the constitutional foundation for the work we do at the Tenth Amendment Center.