In today’s political world, the Constitution is either the most important and immovable document when it supports our views or it is an inconvenience when it doesn’t give us permission to do the things we want. We must remember that our founding document is a limitation placed upon the federal government. It defines those things the three branches of government can and cannot do. This was by design in order to limit the powers of government and to preserve the authority of the states. When we interpret the Constitution in a fast and loose way for our own purposes, we dilute all of the powers of the document and we rob the states of their authority.
Some of the difficulties that arise when trying to interpret the restrictions of the Constitution come when the document uses terms like “general welfare” or “regulate interstate commerce” or even the simple power to tax. The subjective nature of these terms is open to interpretation. Today these terms are used to justify programs like Social Security and the Affordable Care Act even though there are no clear references authorizing these types of programs within the Constitution.
The good news is this dilemma was mostly solved through the amendment process. The bad news is the amendment that solves this problem seems to have been completely forgotten.
“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.”
This is the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, the very last amendment in the Bill of Rights. The intent of this amendment is clear: If the Constitution doesn’t say the federal government has the authority, then the federal government does not have the authority, no matter how much you want the program or how much it is actually needed. The states can do it. The feds cannot. If we want that to change, then we need to amend the document.
Every single time we allow programs to move forward that are not specifically mentioned by the Constitution, we dilute the overall power it contains. Amending it is, strangely, the only way to protect it. Ignoring the Constitution will result, and has resulted, in a gradual decline of its clarity and power.
I have no problem with people fighting to implement the programs they may feel are important to the country. That is what makes our government and our country so wonderful. My issue is with the implementation of these programs without specific Constitutional authority. If you want Universal Health Care, amend the document. If you want other social programs not mentioned in the Constitution, amend the document.
Many would complain that the amendment process is too complicated and drawn out to be able to amend for each “needed program.” But this too is by design. As I said before, this document is a limitation on federal power. If the federal government wants to seek more power than it is specifically granted, it must seek widespread approval from the states. Why? Because the 10th Amendment makes clear that those powers belong to the states and to the people. The federal government must seek ratification from those states in order to increase its power.
I’m afraid we’ve allowed the mentality to grow in our country that the federal government is the boss of the states. This is not true. All the authority the federal government has was given to it by the states for the greater good. Everything else was and is reserved to the states. It is our power not theirs. Every time we allow the federal government to expand their power the states are abdicating their own.
We must never forget that we are the United “States” of America. What unites us is the authority each state gave up to the federal government for the greater good. The 10th Amendment clarifies the idea that if the original states did not specifically give up that authority to the federal government, then that power does not exist within the federal government.
The elected members of Congress seem to have forgotten that they are representatives of their respective states. Instead of being so willing to give away their state’s authority, they should be battling to make sure that their states retain as much authority as possible. If something is so important that the states need to grant more authority to the federal government then let them do so through the amendment process as prescribed by the Constitution.
The one thing I know for sure is that you cannot strengthen something by ignoring it. You cannot protect the individual sovereign authority of the states by allowing additional federal powers outside of the amendment process. If our country is to remain as intended, a separation of powers and an agreement between the states, then the 10th Amendment must be elevated to one of the most important parts of the Constitution, instead of the most forgotten.
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