10th Amendment: Might Does Not Make Right

Virginia And 34 Other States To Block HealthCare


The three cases mentioned in the video from Wikipedia: Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

  • In United States v. Lopez 514 U.S. 549 (1995), a federal law mandating a “gun-free zone” on and around public school campuses was struck down because, the Supreme Court ruled, there was no clause in the Constitution authorizing it.
  • In New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992) Obliged states to take title to any waste within their borders that was not disposed of prior to January 1, 1996, and made each state liable for all damages directly related to the waste. The Court, in a 6–3 decision, ruled that the imposition of that obligation on the states violated the Tenth Amendment. Justice O’Connor wrote that the federal government can encourage the states to adopt certain regulations through the spending power (i.e., by attaching conditions to the receipt of federal funds, see South Dakota v. Dole), or through the commerce power (by directly pre-empting state law). However, Congress cannot directly compel states to enforce federal regulations.
  • In Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997)). The act required state and local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on persons attempting to purchase handguns. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, applied New York v. United States to show that the law violated the Tenth Amendment. Since the act “forced participation of the State’s executive in the actual administration of a federal program,” it was unconstitutional.

What I’ve gathered from this is:

  • When the federal government passes a law, they can’t force states to enforce their laws.
  • The federal government can punish states that refuse to enforce federal laws by withholding federal funds.
  • The federal government can act directly and enforce the law themselves if the state refuses, as in Gonzales v. Raich.

Gonzales v. Raich(2005). In this case, a California woman sued the Drug Enforcement Administration after her medical marijuana crop was seized and destroyed by Federal agents. Medical marijuana was explicitly made legal under California state law by Proposition 215; however, marijuana is prohibited at the federal level by the Controlled Substances Act. Even though the woman grew the marijuana strictly for her own consumption and never sold any, the Supreme Court stated that growing one’s own marijuana affects the interstate market of marijuana. The theory was that the marijuana could enter the stream of interstate commerce, even if it clearly wasn’t grown for that purpose and it was unlikely ever to happen (the same reasoning as in the Wickard v. Filburn decision). It therefore ruled that this practice may be regulated by the federal government under the authority of the Commerce Clause.

In my public education, I was never taught about the tenth Amendment. The education I received left me with the impression that Federal law always supersedes state law. I guess they didn’t see the need to teach about something that has, for the most part, been ignored.

I do remember something about the Civil War starting out over some similar issues. The Civil War settled the issues of slavery and which was the most powerful–federal or state government. It left me with the false impression that because the federal government always wins, they must always be right.

In the video, Robert Marshall said “this is a forced contract.” In any other aspect of your life, were someone to force you to sign a contract or go to jail, it would be easy to distinguish that might does not make it right. The forced aspect of the healthcare bill has made it clear to me the federal government is not always in the right, and that’s why there is a tenth amendment.

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