The 10th Amendment says that the federal government has only those powers specifically granted by the Constitution.
By Dec. 15, three-fourths of the states ratify the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are meant to secure individual liberties and to maintain the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states. Although not specified in the 10th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in years to come that laws affecting family relations, commerce within a state’s borders, and local law enforcement fall within state authority.
Congress passes the Alien and Sedition Acts, which dramatically increase the federal government’s authority. In protest, Thomas Jefferson writes the Kentucky Resolutions, which argue that the states have the right to void federal legislation that they judge to be beyond the scope of Congress’ constitutional authority. The Kentucky Legislature passes the resolutions. The Virginia Legislature follows suit, passing the Virginia Resolutions, authored by James Madison.
In McCulloch v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Congress has the authority to charter a national bank, even though such a “power” is not specifically “delegated” in the Constitution. With this broad interpretation of the federal government’s authority, the Court sharply restricts the rights that are “reserved” to the states by the 10th Amendment.
After being passed by Congress, the 13th Amendment is sent to the states on Feb. 1, 1865, for ratification. The amendment is ratified on Dec. 18, 1865, when Georgia becomes the 27th of 36 states to vote in favor of the amendment.
In Collector v. Day, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that a federal tax upon the salaries of state officials exceeds the authority delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, and that the “reserved powers” of the states under the 10th Amendment nullify such a law. (In 1939, Collector will be overruled by the Court’s decision in Graves v. New York.)
In Hammer v. Dagenhart, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a federal statute prohibiting the interstate shipment of goods produced by child laborers is beyond the powers “delegated” to the federal government by the Constitution. The Court rules that under the 10th Amendment, individual states have the right to decide how to regulate the use of child labor in manufacturing. In 1941, Hammer will be overruled by the Court’s decision in United States v. Darby.
In Schechter Corp. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), one of the New Deal’s key pieces of federal legislation. Among its provisions are minimum wage and maximum hours requirements and certain price controls. The Court rules that the NIRA exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce and invades the states’ rights to regulate manufacturing. Even an economic emergency like the Depression, the Court finds, does not justify federal government interference with a state’s economic activity.
In a switch from the anti-federal/pro-states’ rights rulings such as Collector, Hammer and Schechter, the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in United States v. Darby that the federal government is within its authority in passing the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Court concludes that the law, which establishes numerous minimum wage and maximum labor standards nationwide, falls within Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce.
In National League of Cities v. Usery, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act cannot be extended to cover all state and local employees. Although the fair labor law is a proper exercise of the federal government’s commerce clause power, the Court rules that the 10th Amendment requires the states to keep control over their own operations, and that the wage and hour requirements for government employees are part of such operations. The Court will overrule Usery nine years later, in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Authority.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority that the Fair Labor Standards Act does apply to state and local employees. Reversing its 1976 holding in Usery, the Court concludes that this extension of the fair labor law is appropriate under the federal government’s constitutionally delegated commerce clause power after all. The Court bases its ruling in part on the fact that because Congress is made up of representatives from each of the states, legislation enacted by Congress takes states’ rights into account. Unless the states can show that the federal lawmaking process is defective in some way, the Court rules, the 10th Amendment is not violated.
In South Carolina v. Baker, the U.S. Supreme Court expands on its Garcia ruling and finds that unless the states can show “some extraordinary defect in the national political process,” the 10th Amendment is not a barrier to federal action.
In the landmark decision in United States v. Lopez, for the first time in over 50 years the U.S. Supreme Court limits the powers of Congress under the commerce clause when it strikes down the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act. Alfonso Lopez Jr. is caught in his San Antonio high school with a handgun and bullets. He is arrested and accused of violating the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which prohibits the possession of guns in school zones. The Court says the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which bars people from knowingly carrying a gun in a school zone, exceeds the power of Congress to legislate under the commerce clause. Possession of a gun in a local school zone is not an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
In United States v. Morrison, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a provision in the federal Violence Against Women Act as exceeding Congress’ commerce clause authority and impinging on an area of state control. The provision, which permitted victims of sex-based violence to bring a federal lawsuit against their attackers, is found to invade states’ “police power.” Legislation about domestic violence and family law is traditionally left to the states.