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The Tenth Amendment

Written by Caroline Peterson, Summer 2015 Intern

“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, in a way, does the exact opposite of what the Ninth does. While the Ninth allows for rights not specifically outlined in the Constitution to be retained by the people so their rights are not limited to what is actually on paper, the Tenth’s purpose is to limit the federal government’s power to what is specifically allowed by the Constitution, and anything not mentioned is automatically reserved for the states and the people.

Based on ideas from the Articles of Confederation, this sort of limit on federal government power over respective states and people seems to be an important aspect of American government. However, as the nation progresses and issues arise that the federal government must address, this limit on its power appears to be making some progression much more difficult.

For example, as gun violence becomes an increasingly alarming epidemic in this country, the federal government has tried to impose tighter gun restrictions across the nation and require stricter background checks when people try to purchase firearms; however, many local and state governments have objected to such restrictions on the grounds that such imposition violates the limits put on federal power in the Tenth Amendment. Likewise, with talk of nationalized health care and with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many states object to the state’s intrusion into health care and forcing people to buy health insurance and financially penalizing them for failure to comply.

I understand why people are concerned with the federal government overstepping its bounds. Government work can be a mess, and it seems contrary to American principles of freedom and individualism to allow for an imposing federal government. However, when these issues with such an impact on national well-being (such as guns and healthcare) are left up to states, it has proven to be disorganized chaos. Mass shootings are still the norm, and states keep resisting federal efforts to mitigate this violence. Healthcare is horribly expensive and a staggeringly large portion of the American population cannot afford basic healthcare; yet, cries of “Communism!” resonate across the country, and people without insurance are forced to drop steep healthcare costs on the public when they go to hospitals for medical emergencies.

While limits on federal government power are important for a free state, at one point do we mature enough as a people to realize that we are not more free because we aren’t forced to buy health insurance and we have very few gun restrictions? Rather, we are less free; we can’t go to the doctor without worrying about how much it’s going to cost, putting money before our own lives and health. We have to watch our backs walking down the street because the next guy could be packing heat, ready to shoot. How is it ‘more free’ to be burdened by such anxiety? How free are we when we have to get a driver’s license, invest in a car, pay for insurance, pay for gas, and pay for maintenance to travel, when in other countries they pay taxes and through investing in a public transportation system, they can get wherever they want, without the hassle of a car? How free is this for those who can’t drive, for whatever reason? What does it even mean to say that America is a free country?


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Caroline Peterson

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