This is the last in a series of pieces on the Bill of Rights, so thanks to my brother Rich for the suggestion to do it. It has been an interesting trip back into history and an interesting "return trip" to see what the implications each Amendment has on today's society and what consequences accrue because of the rights enshrined in each.
The Tenth Amendment is an utterly fantastic summary of what the Framers had in mind as far as the role of government in the lives of the citizens of the newly-hatched USA, and they did it with characteristic terseness. The words resonate on the marbled walls of history:
"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."
How, I ask us as citizens of the USA in 2015, can there be any doubt what the Constitution has said as the law of the land? If the Constitution does not say that something is the role of the Federal Government, then it is not the role of the Federal Government!
It is not the role of the Federal Government to:
- Educate children or dictate how they are to be educated
- Regulate the relationship between employers and employees
- Decide what temperature the climate is supposed to be
- Regulate the production and distribution of energy
- Run hospitals -- even for our veterans
- Manage health insurance marketplaces
- Insure people who choose to live by the sea against flooding
- Etc., etc., etc., etc. ....
Can there even be a more clear dividing line between the raw definition of liberals and conservatives, than how the Tenth Amendment is regarded? After all, it is practically a defining tenet of conservatism that government in America is intended to provide what the Constitution designates to be its role and no more. Government takes taxation reluctantly to provide the services that it must; it is not designed to seize funds from its citizens for ever-expanding roles for itself.
Government is not the employer of first resort, trying to lower unemployment rates by assuming the power to do ever more that business, the citizenry and states can do better and hiring at taxpayer expense to do so. Liberals, of course, regard that as the fundamental purpose of government.
It's a bit hard to refer to the "consequences" today of the Tenth Amendment when the Federal Government appears not to find itself obligated to obey it.
In a couple of the pieces in this series I have referred to court cases I'd like to see. So here are a few possibles -- what might happen if someone who were somehow affected -- let's say perhaps fined -- by the Department of Energy, were to turn around and sue for the reversal of the fine and the dissolution of the entire department and dismissal of its employees, on the grounds that the Tenth Amendment provides for the management of energy policy to be reserved to the States and the people?
Now, I could see a Supreme Court -- even some of the more conservative justices -- deciding that the Department of Energy was, effectively, "administering interstate commerce", given the power grid and all, and not going along with that. So perhaps the better example would be for an individual, or even a State, to find some aggrievement in an action of the Department of Education and sue for its dissolution on Tenth Amendment grounds.
Wouldn't you like to see that? Wouldn't Justice Scalia have a field day with the defending Administration trying to get them to weave some convoluted logic map as to how Federal influence in education is warranted -- no, how it is even allowed by the Constitution? How hard would that be? I have to believe that somewhere there is a State which has been denied funding based on some policy of the Education Department, and able to sue on that ground.
I'd like to see a veteran's family who died while awaiting an appointment at a VA hospital sue for the dissolution of the VHA (the part of the Veterans Affairs department that handles VA hospitals and insurance) and insist on court-mandated privatization of VA hospitals on the same grounds -- that the delivery of health care to civilians, no matter to whom, is a power not given to the Federal Government and, therefore, reserved to the States and to the people.
We are engaged in a memorable campaign with a dozen-plus legitimate contenders vying to run for the presidency. It is, more than ever, time to make this at least in part a debate on the proper role of the Federal Government, not simply philosophically but because it is specifically bound by the exact wording and Framers' intent found in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
It has been a pleasure to read the words of the Bill of Rights this past few weeks, and emerge not only with a refreshed admiration for the work of its authors, but also with an encouragement to share with my readers to take its tenets a step forward.
Rights, as I wrote in the piece on the Ninth Amendment, are the currency of exchange between a people and the government they have created to protect them. Like all currency, they are valuable and precious and, like all currency, lose that value when their underpinning, whether gold or the full faith and credit of their issuer, is devalued.
May we love, respect and cherish the rights granted to us by the first true citizens.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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