I'm pleased to see the growing movement in State legislatures around the country to remind Americans of the existence and import of the 10th amendment to the Constitution. It reads simply "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." These words first of all firmly and unequivocally establish that the U.S. government has only the powers delegated to it by the Constitution of the United States on the authority of the sovereign people of the United States by whom it is ordained and established. The State governments, established by sovereign decision of the people of the respective States, continue to enjoy the powers vested in them by their State constitutions, subject only to the specific prohibitions spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.
For many years I've stressed the importance of the 10th amendment as it guards against the establishment of consolidated, despotic power at the national level. For a while I was met by incomprehension, incredulity and some ridicule from people who insisted that the Courts have eliminated the 10th amendment from the Constitution through their refusal to respect and enforce it. (This is, by the way, the same argument some are using to excuse the palpable dereliction of Federal Judges and officials who refuse to demand proof that the Alleged Usurper in the White House satisfies the Constitution's eligibility requirement.) However as I have often said, a long string of cases in which the Courts have willfully ignore the Constitution is not a weighty line of precedents, but a long train of abuses. By guile, force and ignorance such abuses may be imposed upon the people for a time, but they are not and can never become law because they either contradict or are not authorized by the Supreme Law of the Land.
As the 10th amendment resolutions proliferate around the country, I find myself quietly praying that they represent a serious commitment on the part of State legislators to restoring the proper position of the State governments before it is too late. I also pray that they will remember the reasoning that allows them to do so without threatening to destroy the Union on which our nation's strength depends.
They should be realistic about the great challenge they face, arising in part from a major alteration in the Constitution of the United States that has done more to undermine the residual sovereignty of the State governments than any Court decisions. As originally ratified the Constitution established a national legislative body in which one chamber, the House of Representatives, consisted of representatives elected by the people as apportioned among population districts established within the boundaries of each state. The second chamber, the Senate, consisted of two Senators from each State, chosen by the State legislatures. In 1913 the 17th amendment was ratified, providing for election of the Senators directly by the people of each state. This meant that the U.S. Senate no longer represented the State governments, but rather the States as mere geographic entities. Despite the appearance of greater respect for the will of the people of the States, this in fact greatly weakens the States' ability to defend their prerogatives. It is far easier to divide the people of a State against itself when the government institution that represents their united will (as determined by their state elections) has been eliminated from the picture.
Any serious effort to restore respect for the 10th amendment must include some way of compensating for the elimination of this key component of the mechanism originally devised to enforce it within the framework of the Federal government. It must also include an effort to think through the simple, but now much neglected argument that prevents the healthy reassertion of State sovereignty from overturning and dissolving the Federal Union. Government of, by and for the people, whether at the local, State or national level, depends for its legitimacy on the premises of just government succinctly summarized in the American Declaration of independence. Whether at the State or the national level, those chosen to represent the people in their exercise of the powers of government must respect the principles of God-ordained equality and unalienable rights therein declared. Otherwise the republican form of government cannot be preserved. Article IV, Section IV of the U.S. Constitution makes its preservation in every State of the Union a particular responsibility of the United States government, but by their oaths of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States every government official at any level is bound to the same purpose. For whether we seek to restore the States' proper sovereignty under the Constitution or preserve undiminished the strength of their Constitutional Union, the ultimate aim, and our common good, is to safeguard the liberty of the American people.