State Laws and the 10th Amendment

State Laws and the 10th Amendment

( – The Constitution of the United States of America is the founding document that established the three branches of government — Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The original Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments, 9 of which provided limitations on the federal government and its influence upon the people.

The 10th Amendment

The final amendment discusses the steps for issues arising outside the scope of what the original document delineates as the powers of the national government. It 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.”

To understand what this means, one has to remember the country was originally established as a pact among 13 sovereign states, but not as a single nation. One need look no further than the Preamble where the first line is “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,…” Where a union is a joining together of separate entities that share common interests but still maintain their individuality.

An Example

The commerce clause (Article I, §8, Clause 3) gave Congress the sole right to establish laws governing it “among the several States [sic].” In other words, in order to avoid conflict between two states’ laws, that power was given to the federal government. However, the framers understood that to mean within the borders of each separate entity, they would each establish their own laws.

As recently as 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) upheld that idea in a case titled Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The federal government passed a law prohibiting sports wagering in any state, except Nevada where it already existed. New Jersey had passed a constitutional amendment specifically allowing it, and lower courts ruled the law that came out of Washington, DC, preempted it.

When SCOTUS heard the case on appeal, they overturned those decisions based on this amendment with the ruling that decreed the law “commandeered” the rights of the state. The ruling reaffirmed that the federal government may not enforce a law nationwide unless the Constitution says it’s within its purview.

While state rights v. federalist issues seem to have largely been decided in favor of the universal theory after the Civil War era, there are still examples of state sovereignty being the rule of law. The current coronavirus pandemic proves this out through the patchwork of requirements among the states regarding the lockdowns.

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