10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights, having been added to assure the people that the federal government would not overstep its authority. This brief and concise amendment expresses the concept of federalism, which in turn, supports the entire plan of the Constitution. It states that the government has only the specific powers delegated to it by the Constitution, and all other powers are reserved for the states. To explore this concept, consider the following 10th Amendment definition.

Definition of 10th Amendment


  1. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution that grants only the powers specified in the Constitution to the federal government. This amendment reserves all other powers to the states and the people.


1791    Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

What is the 10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment, sometimes written as the “Tenth Amendment,” restricts the powers of the federal government. As part of the Bill of Rights, this amendment stands as a reminder of the importance of the states and the role that the people play in ensuring a just government. The 10th Amendment states that any powers not specifically granted to the federal government are given to the states or the citizens of the states. The text of the 10th Amendment to the United States 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.”

History of the 10th Amendment

While the original draft of the 10th Amendment was based on a provision of the Articles of Confederation, which read, ” Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled,” representatives of two states lobbied for the wording to specifically limit the federal government’s power to those expressed within the Constitution. Such a severe limitation would deny the federal government implied powers needed to fulfill its duties under the Constitution.

James Madison rejected the idea, as he strongly believed that limiting the powers of the federal government would be impossible, and even detrimental, as times changed and new situations arose. When James Madison introduced the 10th Amendment to Congress, he responded to critics by stating:

“I find, from looking into the amendments proposed by the State conventions, that several are particularly anxious that it should be declared in the Constitution, that the powers not therein delegated should be reserved to the several States. Perhaps words which may define this more precisely than the whole of the instrument now does, may be considered as superfluous. I admit they may be deemed unnecessary: but there can be no harm in making such a declaration, if gentlemen will allow that the fact is as stated. I am sure I understand it so, and do therefore propose it.”

Though the 10th Amendment was ratified, it did not reject the implied powers granted to the federal government as written in the Necessary and Proper clause.

Necessary and Proper Clause

The Necessary and Proper Clause, also known as the Elastic Clause, covers the powers given to Congress in the United States Constitution. The Necessary and Proper clause allows Congress to make any laws that are necessary and proper to carrying out their Enumerated Powers. Enumerated powers are those powers specifically assigned to Congress in different portions of the Constitution. An example of Enumerated powers appears in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution, which reads:

“To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;”

The Necessary and Proper Clause is contained in the last paragraph of Article 1, Section 8, at Clause 18. This clause provides the government with flexibility when it comes to creating laws, even when the Constitution does not give it specific authority to do so.

The clause reads:

“The Congress shall have Power To … make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing [enumerated] Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Reserved Powers

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent the federal government to run amok, claiming powers the people do not wish it to have. While certain enumerated (listed) powers are given to the federal government, this amendment specifically reserves all other powers to the states, or to the people.

Example of 10th Amendment Reserved Powers

When questions arise over which level of government is responsible for, or has authority over, any issue, simply referring to the specifically listed powers granted to the federal government provides an answer. For instance, questions about how to format important road signs is not mentioned in the Constitution – it is a state power. Policies on issuing drivers’ licenses is not mentioned in the Constitution – it is a state power. Forming and maintaining fire suppression agencies is not mentioned in the Constitution – it is a state power. The example of 10th Amendment limitations could be quite large, as the federal government is specifically granted a narrow catalogue of authority.

The Tenther Movement

The Tenther Movement is a social or group association within the United States that supports the political ideology that the Federal government’s powers must be strictly kept within its bounds, based on the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. While the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the amendment does not require such narrow interpretation, supporters of the Tenther Movement, sometimes referred to as “tenthers,” believe that keeping federal powers restricted is vital to maintaining the original intent of the Constitution.

Tenthers oppose many federal programs, such as federal surveillance on civilians, and the government’s taking of many economic liberties. Rather than oppose these programs completely, like libertarian groups, the Tenther Movement advocates that these programs should be implemented by the states, rather than the federal government.

Applying the 10th Amendment to State Employers

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) set regulations for employment, such as the introduction of a 40-hour work week, the setting of a national minimum wage, and guarantee of overtime pay in certain sectors. The FLSA also prohibited employment of minors. This federal act specifically applied to private businesses and private employees engaged in interstate commerce, exempting state employees.

In 1974, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was amended to include state and local employees in the overtime pay and minimum wage requirements. The National League of Cities quickly challenged the amendment, claiming it violated the 10th Amendments limitation on the federal government’s powers.

In National League of Cities vs. Ursery, the U.S. Supreme Court was called to determine whether the 10th Amendment prohibited Congress from exercising commerce powers over state employees, as these rights are typically reserved to the states. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National League of Cities, and Justice William Rehnquist wrote that, while Congress may exercise power over private companies in certain situations, the 10th Amendment prohibits it from exercising any power over the states, if such authority impairs the integrity of the state, or its ability to function properly.

The ruling was overturned in 1985 however, when the court heard the case of Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority. Prior to this time, the state transit authority had been observing rules set by the FLSA, but informed their employees they did not have to pay overtime. The Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor investigated the issue and determined that the transit authority was legally required to abide by the FLSA.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, operated by the state of Texas, filed a petition in court, claiming that its function was outside the federal government’s scope to regulate business. Joe Garcia and other employees of the transit authority also filed civil lawsuits demanding the overtime pay they believed due to them.

The United States District court for the Western District of Texas heard the case, and ruled in favor of the transit authority, stating that its transportation operations were a traditional function of state government, and was therefore exempt from the FLSA. Both the Department of Labor and Garcia appealed to the US. Supreme Court, which declined to offer a distinction of what constitutes a “traditional” and “non-traditional” government operation.

The Court determined that, because each state has equal representation in the federal government, and the power to elect those representatives, the decision of Congress to extend the authority of the FLSA to enforce minimum wage provisions against state governments does not violate the Tenth Amendment.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Bill of Rights – The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Clause – A section of a legal document that relates to a particular point or issue.
  • Congress – The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • Overturn – To change a decision or judgment so that it becomes the opposite of what it was originally.

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