The 10th Amendment - Wasatch Wave (1/9/13)
Four years after the signing of the Constitution in 1787, the Congress and the states adopted the 10 amendments in 1791 known as the Bill of Rights. Most of the Amendments, as the grouping title implies, deal with rights and freedoms granted to (most) individuals (most of the time). The Amendments, however, were written in very general terms leaving a great deal of latitude for both lawmakers and the courts to interpret as they deemed fit.
The 10th Amendment titled “Powers Retained by the States and the People” is a bit of a “catchall”. The wording is quite clear and brief: “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.”
While the Constitution is focused on outlining the powers of the three branches of government, it also addresses powers forbidden to the states in Article I, Section 10. It also specifies the relationships between the federal government and the states quite clearly in Article IV, Section 3.
The controversy with the 10th Amendment is that it can be interpreted as contradicting the Preamble to the Constitution. This Preamble states, in part, that the Constitution, and by implication, the federal government, has a responsibility for “the general welfare” of the American people. Like much in the Constitution and especially the Amendments, this was written in very general terms.
The political left justifies many federal programs including what we now term as “entitlements” as falling under the “general welfare” clause. The political right counters that the 10th Amendment takes precedence and that entitlement programs should fall under state jurisdiction.
Aside from the philosophical argument, there are many practical considerations regarding whether entitlement programs such as healthcare or social security (or corporate welfare) should be run or regulated by each individual state. As the corporate world has found out in the so called free market, there are efficiencies of scale. Does it make sense to have 50 separate entities each creating and maintaining organizations to accomplish the same overall goals or objectives? In business, the market rewards those corporations that merged or grew to generate greater efficiencies and passed on the savings to their customers.
While many don’t like them, few will argue that large corporations like Wal Mart, McDonalds and Apple, to name a few, offer more value because of their economies of scale, resultant efficiencies and consistent interstate offerings. The same is true of most individual and corporate federally administered entitlement programs. The balance between the 10th Amendment and the Constitution Preamble should be decided by which offers the American people the most value which is a blend of availability, quality and cost.