The 10th Amendment States That You Have the Right to What?

By Beth Wankel
Our Founding Fathers drafted the 10th Amendment to protect states' rights.
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The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, "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 Founding Fathers were wary of granting the federal government sweeping powers, especially after having fought the Revolutionary War to separate themselves from just such a government. This amendment was passed as an attempt to keep the federal government in check.

Powerful Centralized Government

The Founding Fathers approved the 10th Amendment to help state governments maintain a certain level of control within their boundaries. According to this amendment, only powers granted by the Constitution can be claimed by the federal government, while other matters are delegated to the states.

Examples of States' Rights

The federal government is not, under the Constitution, granted the right to legislate the morality, health and safety of the residents of each state. Those rights, also known as Police Powers, are granted to the states to legislate on their own. Alternately, the states cannot claim federal powers, such as the right to enter into a treaty with a foreign country. Such matters are constitutionally limited to the federal government.

Tenth Amendment Throughout History

The 10th Amendment has been more popular during some eras of history than others. For example, during the Civil War, many Southern states cited the 10th Amendment as justification for legalized slavery. After the Civil War, the federal government forced those states to pass legislation granting rights to freed slaves. During the Great Depression, the Supreme Court resisted pieces of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, claiming it eroded states' rights, but later backed off the claim because of the country's need for such legislation at that time.


Many political analysts accuse the federal government of not obeying the 10th Amendment, accusing federal politicians of sidestepping it to pass and enforce laws. It is a difficult amendment to uphold, given that it does not specifically outline what rights belong to the federal government and what rights belong to the states. Each time a new law is introduced, it must be evaluated as to whether it fits the confines of the 10th Amendment. Some also argue that the 10th Amendment isn't a necessary component of the Constitution, because the Constitution itself lays out specifically the rights of the federal government, making the 10th Amendment a bit redundant. Many counter this with the idea that, if it is not specified who has which powers, the federal government might take advantage and claim certain rights.