What Rights Are Given to States in the Constitution

Now and again, states’ rights come up as an issue. Sometimes it seems trivial, and other times it seems like a conspiracy to justify a political position. The truth is, it’s neither trivial nor conspiratorial. States’ rights derive from the United States Constitution with good reason.

Before 1776, each colony was its own unique entity that belonged to England. None were accountable to the others. However, by the end of the Revolutionary War, each shared a kindred desire to form a “union.” That union was the United (Sovereign) States of America. The Constitution recognizes each state as a sovereign entity free to govern itself. In the original Constitution, ratified on September 17, 1787, there were very few exceptions.

Along Comes the 10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment, ratified in 1791, declared any powers not explicitly granted to the federal government in the US Constitution were delegated to the states. The Founding Fathers designed the 10th amendment to define the differences between the federal government and the states.

So, what powers does a state have?

State Powers

As sovereign powers, states have considerable abilities. What are some examples of states’ rights that are not delineated in the US Constitution?

  • Minimum Wage: Each state sets its own minimum wage so long as the benefit is greater than the federal government’s.
  • Education: Each state is responsible for establishing through law how education works in that state. The US Constitution does not mandate K-12 education; therefore, the federal government doesn’t run education.
  • Licenses: States grant driver’s licenses, marriage licenses, business licenses, and more.
  • Gun Control: States passed gun control laws for over 180 years. To show the differences in state laws: In New Jersey, it’s illegal to carry a loaded gun in a vehicle. In other states, there are minimal gun rules. In some states, people can walk around with loaded guns in visible holsters (open carry) as though it were the mid-1800s.
  • Taxes: States can tax for virtually any purpose.
  • Local Government: States create county and local governments.
  • Commerce: States regulate commerce within their borders and with other states.
  • Law Enforcement: State governments create law enforcement agencies to enforce state, county, and local laws where the federal government has no jurisdiction.

The 10th Amendment restricts much of the power of the federal government. Many of the services we take for granted are determined by a state government. The benefits of the 10th Amendment are numerous. However, the most important may be that it provides another form of checks and balances against federal overreach and protects our personal liberties.

Perhaps the Founding Fathers really did know what they were doing.