10th Amendment – what does it mean?

The First 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.  There is often discussion and debate about what these amendments mean. Without bringing a political view and without giving legal advice, below is the text of the 4th Amendment and some commentary on it.

Amendment X: 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 purpose of the last of the original ten amendments (The Bill of Rights) was added, because the writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights wanted to show that what rights were not granted or given to the federal level of government, should be left for the states and the people to decide. 

In 1997, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled on Printz v. United States (521 US 898 (1997)) that the Federal Government cannot issue directives requiring states to address a particular issue and the Federal Government cannot command state officers to administer or enforce federal regulatory programs. While this specific case was about background checks for handgun purchases it is a good example of what limits the congressional branch of the government has.

Cornell Law School has done a great job of listing landmark cases for the 10th Amendment. Including a 2000 case Reno v. Condon (528 US 141 (2000)) that most people may not be aware of but appreciate that Congress passed. Many states were requiring drivers to provide personal information to the department of motor vehicles and were selling this information as a source of revenue. Congress enacted the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) which restricted states from selling or disclosing a driver’s personal information without consent. SCOTUS ruled that this was not a violation of the 10th Amendment, because the information being sold was used for interstate commerce. Under the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 3 Congress has the right to regulate interstate commerce.


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