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 Tenth Amendment has enjoyed a certain renaissance over the past ten to fifteen years. People in and out of government have extolled the virtues of State and local control and are calling for a proper balance of power between the state and federal governments. Former President Ronald Reagan may be credited with having helped catalyze this movement for he was the first President, at least since FDR, to roll back the scope of federal programs while insisting that many federal programs, if proper at all, fell within the province of the States and not the federal government. Through much of the 1980s State legislators, struggled to fill the gap between peoples expectations and the void left by cutbacks in federal programs. This struggle, however, has led to the emergence, in the 1990s, of State governments that are energized and acting with renewed vigor and self-confidence. While there remain many opponents of local control, federalism seems to have found a foothold, at least for the time being. Even the Supreme Court has recently dusted off a copy of the Bill of Rights to "discover" that the body of the Constitution when interpreted in accordance with the Tenth Amendment suggests that there may actually be limits as to what the federal government can do.
In the federalist camp, there appear to have emerged two competing schools of thought. One, led by Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, focuses on educating state legislators about the Tenth Amendment and the limits of federal government authority. It has been highly successful in making state legislators aware of their authority, but it has not, as of yet, translated into the courage necessary to take back that authority which was unlawfully usurped from the States by the federal government. The other principal school of thought believes that it is necessary to call a Constitutional Convention or "Conference of the States" to update and modernize our Constitution in order to reestablish a proper balance of power between the federal and state governments. Interestingly, neither side appears to focus on the rights of the individual and the proper, limited role of all governments, whether they be federal, state or local.
As sovereigns we have a duty, should we prefer sovereignty to slavery, to determine for ourselves what course we desire our nation to take and to participate in the decisionmaking process. Any person who follows this column knows that I am pursuaded of the wisdom of our founding fathers, but it is up to each individual to decide for themselves. My purpose in this column, is simply to set forth the vision of our founding fathers so that each person can make an educated decision as to whether they will reject or adhere to that vision.
Our founding fathers believed very strongly that governments received their just authority from the consent of the people. This principal was clearly set forth in the Declaration of Independence where it stated that "Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just authority from the consent of the governed." From this understanding of authority flowed the founder's concept of a government of limited, "delegated powers." The Tenth Amendment was simply the codification of that principal in the Constitution of the newly formed union. It is the cornerstone that our founding fathers gave us to make it absolutely clear that the government of the United States was to be a limited government of purely delegated authority.
Read in context and in accordance with the fundamental rules of grammar, one discerns three basic principals embodied in the Tenth Amendment. First and foremost, one finds the principal of a limited government of delegated powers set forth clearly, for it begins, "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution . . . are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This phrase simply means that if the constitution does not give the national government authority in a particular area then it remains with the States or the people. Second, it makes it clear that those powers not expressly "prohibited by [the Constitution] to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This phrase simply recognizes that the people were free to organize themselves, within their own states, however they saw fit, subject only to those express prohibitions contained in the national Constitution. Finally, the Tenth Amendment concluded by recognizing that all powers not delegated to the national government nor prohibited by the Constitution to the States remained with the people and/or the States.
Thus we find that the Tenth Amendment, when read in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence and the whole Constitution sets forth a line of authority that our forefathers accepted as self-evident. At the top of that line of authority was God as Supreme Authority and Creator, from whence all just power flows. God then entered into a covenant with his people by which he endowed all men, not a select few (i.e. the Kings and Queens of Europe), with certain sovereign unalienable rights. Men, as co-equal sovereigns before God and one to another, then entered into covenants (i.e. local charters and State Constitutions) by which they instituted local and state governments. Finally, the people, acting through their sovereign States, organized themselves into a union, by ratification of our U.S. Constitution. The Tenth Amendment is therefore more than a simple statement of the principal of "delegated powers," it is the completion of the foundation of individual liberty that our forefathers bequeathed us.