The Tenth Amendment: A Linchpin

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, May 31, 2014

Editor’s note: This column is the second part in a series on the Constitution in which Congressman Forbes discusses three areas he believes need a renewed commitment from our nation’s leaders. This is the final installment, as the third part ran last week due to its relevance to Memorial Day. To read the other columns, visit

A power struggle. That’s what our Founding Fathers foresaw between individual states and our federal government. So in 1787, they penned the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They wrote, “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.”

Like a linchpin holding a machine together, the Tenth Amendment provided assurance for citizens of our budding nation that they wouldn’t face the heavy-handed power of a centralized government. But more than that, it reinforced the entire purpose of the Constitution: that states exercise general powers, while the federal government has a narrow set of responsibilities.

The result was a republic with safeguards against centralized power, and a government where states were able to make decisions on behalf of their citizens independent of the federal government and its regulations.

The Tenth Amendment remains a cornerstone of who we are as a nation, providing the framework for limited government. However, limited government is contingent upon states having the rights reserved for them, without the government encroaching.

Unfortunately, today many have come to view the Tenth Amendment less like a linchpin and more like a cog — something that can be dispensed and replaced. Across industries and issues, we see the federal government replacing states’ rights with a centralized, federal machine. We see it in the federal government’s role in healthcare. We see it in federal labor-relations decisions. We see it in the federal government’s rapidly growing and ever-changing involvement in education. We see it in the federal government’s increased activity in trying to control land and water. The burden of federal regulations placed on businesses and manufacturers has exploded. Small cities, whose economies rely heavily on the community’s manufacturers, have been forced to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade its facilities in order to meet one-size-fits-all federal standards. Overreach of the federal government into the realm of American business stifles innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our Founding Fathers were right in their foresight of a power struggle between state and federal governments. That’s why they felt it so important to put safeguards in place against centralized power. Our Founders designed it this way because states have the flexibility to experiment where the federal government cannot. Furthermore, responsibility for certain decisions is best handled by the states and individual governments in order to enhance local flexibility, protect taxpayers’ investments, and strengthen state and local autonomy.

The Tenth Amendment is just as relevant today as it was on the day of its ratification, and it is the responsibility of Congress to make sure these rights are safeguarded, as well as to ensure that legislation passed by Congress does not overstep the bounds of this right. This is a truth that remains at the forefront of my mind as I make policy decisions. It’s also why I am a member of the Congressional Constitution Caucus, which is dedicated to preserving the true intent of our Founding Fathers. This bipartisan caucus provides an educational forum regarding constitutional principles and fosters discussion of the appropriate role of the federal government.

The federal government should be an enabler, not a barrier, to states’ rights. States need to be able to make decisions on behalf of their citizens, independent of the federal government and its regulations. A marketplace of governments allows for the best decisions to win out, keeping citizens close to the decision making process and creating accountability for government. The Tenth Amendment is a linchpin in the Constitution because it protects individual liberties; it keeps power where it belongs — with the people.

Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see