States Rights vs. the Federal Government

States Rights vs. the Federal Government

( – The 10th Amendment states that “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.” This not only limits where and how the federal government can exercise its powers but also helps to prevent abuse of power and tyranny on a national level.

Determining exactly where to draw the line, however, isn’t always straightforward. The above passage doesn’t specify which powers actually fall to the state or to the federal government itself. For that, one must investigate a different area of the Constitution instead.

Federal Government Rights

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution contains a total of 18 clauses, each granting a specific power to the federal government. This includes the right to:

  • Levy taxes and other fees
  • Use collected monies to fund US debts (e.g., Defense)
  • Borrow money or seek credit on behalf of the US
  • Regulate commerce, both domestic and international
  • Establish and enforce rules for Naturalization and bankruptcy
  • Create and regulate currencies, fixing their value within the US
  • Enforce punishments for counterfeiting of securities, including coinage
  • Create and maintain postal offices, as well as postal roads
  • Grant or enforce private patents and copyrights
  • Establish courts inferior to the Supreme Court (e.g., Courts of Appeals)
  • Punish piracy and other maritime transgressions
  • Declare war and define rules for capture during wartime
  • Raise and support a Military for the defense of the US
  • Raise and support a Navy for maritime defense
  • Govern and regulate all land and naval forces
  • Organize and call forth a militia to defend from threats
  • Set up a national government capital (Washington, DC)
  • Create any law necessary to uphold the aforementioned powers

It is important to note that the balance of power between states and the federal government isn’t always cut and dry. The right to create laws that uphold federal powers, for example, has been interpreted in many different ways over the years because it lacks specificity. For this reason, it is often referred to as the “elastic clause.”

States’ Rights

Technically, states retain any power not specifically granted to the federal government. This makes the rights of the state far-reaching and broad by simple comparison. Furthermore, most states’ rights relate specifically to issues arising within their own borders, rather than on a national level. Examples, including one major exception to this rule, include the right to:

  • Issue licenses and identification cards
  • Conduct elections for local officials (e.g., senators)
  • Regulate intrastate and domestic commerce
  • Protect public health via policy and regulatory actions
  • Establish local governance, as well as localized services
  • Ratify, or refuse to ratify, constitutional amendments

Only the last entry on this list has the power to affect the country on a national level. Yet, it is perhaps the most important. It prevents the federal government from amending or changing, the Constitution unless at least 38 out of 50 states agree. Without it, the government could simply change the rules to suit its own agenda at will, creating the perfect environment for tyranny and abuse by corrupt leaders.

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