Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791. The first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights.
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 Tenth Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to further define the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The amendment says that the federal government has only those powers specifically granted by the Constitution. These powers include the power to declare war, to collect taxes, to regulate interstate business activities and others that are listed in the articles.
Any power not listed, says the Tenth Amendment, is left to the states or the people. Although the Tenth Amendment does not specify what these “powers” may be, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that laws affecting family relations (such as marriage, divorce, and adoption), commerce that occurs within a state’s own borders, and local law enforcement activities, are among those specifically reserved to the states or the people.
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The other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights all refer, in some way, to the rights of individuals. But the Tenth Amendment protects powers, not rights—and of the states, not individuals. Although the states had to give up many powers in order to create the new Constitution, they insisted an amendment be added that affirmed their ongoing role in the governmental design. In fact, the Tenth Amendment was the only part of the Bill of Rights that was recommended by all the state conventions that submitted proposed amendments. From the beginning of the nation, the proper balance between the powers of the federal government and the powers of the states caused major dissension, culminating in the Civil War. And in the words of Chief Justice John Marshall, this issue “will probably continue to arise, as long as our system shall exist.”
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.