What Does the 10th Amendment Actually Mean?

Posted by Justin on

The Bill of Rights is comprised of the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

While most of us know the important ones that are toward the beginning of the Bill of Rights, many Americans don’t understand the 10th Amendment or the important role it plays in regulating Federal and State powers.

Let’s take a closer look at what the 10th Amendment actually means to clear up any miscommunications or misunderstandings:


What Does the 10th Amendment Say?

The full text of the 10th Amendment 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.”

Put in layman’s terms, the 10th Amendment essentially says that any powers that don’t explicitly belong to the federal government via the Constitution are, by default, reserved for state governments or individuals- depending on what makes the most sense.

For example, the power to declare war is a power exclusively reserved for the federal government per the Constitution. But the power to regulate marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution, so it is reserved for other institutions, like state governments.

What Does That Mean?

The purpose of the 10th Amendment is to cover any edge cases that the Founding Fathers could not anticipate as the country evolved. They were wise enough to realize that they couldn't predict all the different controversies or new laws that would crop up and need to be interpreted in the future.

Furthermore, they knew that new prospective powers might be uncovered over time or debated about. They feared that the federal government would assume control of new powers or decisions by default.

So they wrote the 10th Amendment to make sure that this was never the case.

The 10th Amendment clearly states that the federal government cannot take control of new powers or responsibilities by default. Instead, new powers or responsibilities are automatically given to either state governments or individuals.

This isn’t to say that the federal government can’t gain new powers. It technically can, through Supreme Court decisions or Amendments. But the 10th Amendment has prevented the spread of federal power over the last few centuries.

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How Has This Affected Laws in the Modern Day?

The 10th Amendment’s effects can be felt to this day. For example, US marriage laws regarding gay marriage are not up to the US federal government; they can only be debated and decided upon by state governments.

Furthermore, local law enforcement laws and regulations are currently under hot debate due to recent civil unrest. But the federal government cannot make decisions about these events, as police laws are left up to the state governments.

Other examples include gun registration and laws, as the federal government doesn't have the ability to dictate commerce that occurs within a state's own borders. So some states are “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” or have less restrictive gun control laws compared to other states.

While we should all worry about the federal government’s power expanding in recent years, the 10th Amendment should ensure that it cannot expand too quickly, nor can it flex its power in areas where it has no business being.

All in all, the 10th Amendment is an elusive but important one. What brilliant foresight our Founding Fathers had to predict that we may need it at some point in the future, and provide us with a catchall to prevent any undue power being exercised. 


Thank you for reading, stay strong patriots. 

Justin | FamTeeWorld
Maine, USA

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