Politics

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The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1787.

Deciphering the 10th Amendment

April 22, 2009 10:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
The government bailout and other federal directives have many concerned about states' rights, prompting discussion of the 10th Amendment and what it truly entails.

Have We Lost Sight of Our Bill of Rights?

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When the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1787, foremost on Americans' minds was ensuring protection of state and individual rights from federal interference. Today, some say the states have lost that protective element and sense of fiery independence.

Outspoken heroes of the Revolutionary War, including Patrick Henry, feared the Constitution had given the newly formed federal government too much power—the power to abolish individual rights, and even create an all-powerful king, relegating citizens as mere subjects.
Enter the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which reads: “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.”

But what exactly do these state powers entail? And why has the 10th Amendment become such a relevant topic of conversation in recent months?

Radio host Tammy Bruce sums up the meaning of the 10th Amendment: “the Federal Government is only allowed to exercise powers that have been explicitly yielded to it in the Constitution. That's the law.”

In response to what they see as encroaching big government, particularly the strings attached to the federal stimulus bill, several states are moving forward with 10th Amendment-based resolutions. Many states are concerned about “demands from Washington on how to spend money or enact policy,” reported The Washington Times.

These states are primarily questioning whether the federal government “can force states to take actions without paying for them or impose conditions on states if they accept certain federal funding,” The Times reported.

Rep. Judy Burges of Arizona is leading efforts there to pass a 10th Amendment resolution, and told The Washington Times, “We are telling the federal government that we are a sovereign state and want to be treated as such. We are not a branch of the federal government.”

Background: States' 10th Amendment resolutions

Earlier this month, The US Report discussed the issue of states rights. At least 30 states have passed resolutions demanding that the federal government "cease and desist all unconstitutional activity," with Idaho the latest state to have passed such a resolution. The 10th amendment movement first gathered interest during George W. Bush's presidential terms when the USA Patriot Act had many libertarians up in arms, according to The US Report.

Opinion & Analysis: Obama and states’ rights; top-down rule

Early on, President Barack Obama exhibited a willingness to further states’ rights, some say. According to a Christian Science Monitor article in January, Obama told the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider California's request to set its own auto emissions standards "that are tougher than federal standards." The request has been echoed by 13 other states. According to the Monitor, Obama's actions depict "an embrace of states' rights, a concept not strongly associated with the Democratic party for almost 50 years."

Others dispute the idea that Obama is pushing for greater states' rights. According to NewsroomAmerica.com, critics contest that "a number of recent national legislative proposals don't fall within the federal government's constitutionally designated powers." Texas' 10th Amendment resolution takes things a step further by calling for repeal of "federal legislation imposed on the state that requires compliance under penalty of civil or criminal action."

On the subject of taking back states' rights, columnist Bob Confer of Tonawanda News writes, "We see the economy falling apart around us, a collapse that was based on excesses. Yet, in some perverted fashion, the government in its effort to 'save' us finds it necessary to unleash unprecedented excesses ... Rule was supposed to go from the bottom up, and, now, it goes from the top down. The (Tenth Amendment) movement hopes to flip it once again."

Reference: U.S. history

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