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What is the Tenth Amendment?

Written By: Merrill Matthews and William Murchison  |  Posted: Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

It's the last of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, proposed by Congress in 1789 and ratified by the legislatures of the several states. The Tenth Amendment affirms the Union is a nation of states. The states cede some of their inherent authority over specific issues (e.g., defense and interstate commerce) to the federal government. All of the rights and responsibilities not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people, not the other way around. The Tenth Amendment reinforces, and in fact helps define, the Founding Fathers' plan for a nation with a diversity of power centers, unlike the basically unitary, top-down monarchies of 18th century Europe.
Why is the Tenth Amendment so widely ignored today?

Supreme Court decisions from the early 19th century into the mid-20th century generally encouraged the view that the Constitution limited the power and scope of Congress and the executive branch, leaving states and local communities to legislate their own affairs. That balance began to shift to the federal side during the Great Depression, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded greater federal efforts in job creation and market regulation. The federal government began work projects, retirement benefits through Social Security, and even tried to micromanage agricultural and livestock supplies. Since then the Tenth Amendment's emphasis on the powers delegated to the federal government has been largely ignored.
Is the Tenth Amendment somehow less important than lower-numbered amendments, starting with the First?

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