The Tenth Amendment

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.

In legal terms, the Tenth Amendment is what is known as a “rule of construction.”

It doesn’t add anything to the Constitution, nor does it take anything away. But it serves a very important function. It tells us how to interpret the document. Think of it like a lens through which we evaluate everything the federal government does..

The Tenth Amendment makes explicit two fundamental constitutional principles that are implicit in the document itself.

  1. The federal government is only authorized to exercise those powers delegated to it.
  2. The people of the several states retain the authority to exercise any power that is not delegated to the federal government as long as the Constitution doesn’t expressly prohibit it.

In a nutshell, the federal government has a very limited number of things it is authorized to do. These powers are listed throughout the Constitution.

Most power and authority remains with the states; either with the state governments or with the people themselves as they determine in each state.

St. George Tucker summed up this rule of Construction in View of the Constitution of the United States, the first extended, systematic commentary on the Constitution published after ratification:

“The powers delegated to the federal government, are, in all cases, to receive the most strict construction that the instrument will bear, where the rights of a state or of the people, either collectively or individually, may be drawn in question.”

Thomas Jefferson said he considered “the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground.”

If you apply these rules to anything and everything federal government does or proposes to do, your foundation will remain strong.


James Madison

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.

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The Original Meaning of the Tenth Amendment and "Expressly" Delegated Power

The Original Meaning of the Tenth Amendment and “Expressly” Delegated Power

In an important law review paper, Kurt T. Lash delved into the original meaning of the Tenth Amendment. The following ...
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