We typically think of checks and balances in the context of our nation’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This system of governance was intended to prevent the individual branches of government from gaining too much power. Each branch is limited in authority by the other two. The struggle for power between federal, state, and local governments can be just as significant. And although ambiguous, this system of governance is conveyed within the Tenth Amendment.
The United States Constitution provides for certain provisions giving authoritative powers to the Federal government. However, powers not strictly delegated to the central Government, and not directly restricted to the State, are granted to the States themselves. The Tenth Amendment states, “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.” The central theme is that of Federalism (shared power).
The Tenth Amendment has been applied throughout history inciting significant changes to our society. Predominately in the expanse of equal opportunity. Slavery, segregation, labor, and education are likely the most notable societal issues concluded utilizing the Tenth Amendment. In modern society, application of the Tenth Amendment (in regard to equal opportunity) can be observed through the States’ rights to establish marriage laws. Given there is no constitutional provision granting the federal government to regulate marriage, this is left to the states. Regardless, this issue bounced back and forth between the Federal Government and the States for decades. Now resting with provisions granted through the State Marriage Defense Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on January 9, 2014. This Act of Parliament requires the federal government to recognize the validity of a marriage based on a person’s legal residence. Individual states can now support same-sex marriage by enacting state laws that recognize a civil union. Affording same-sex couples the legal status that ensures specified rights and responsibilities. Progression is undoubtedly a strength of the Tenth Amendment. Challenging our Federal Government in order to ensure equal opportunity has become the cornerstone of our society. However, more so than ever, we see issues of equal opportunity being utilized as political platforms. Our ‘natural born rights’ should not be utilized to ensure any incumbent occupies a political position. Too often incumbents will run their campaigns solely based on the emotional status of his/her constituents. The U.S. Constitution was created to protect our natural born rights from government over-reach/oppression. Protecting these rights should be a given, not a popular agenda topic that appeals to our emotions.
States will also utilize the Tenth Amendment in certain situations when they desire exemption from regulations created by the Federal Government. Federalism allows for states to impose certain laws that are to be governed by each individual state. Laws that work well in one state, may not work well in another. The Tenth Amendment allows states to customize legislation to reflect constituents’ needs, “…reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” The minimum wage for example, by allowing the States to set the minimum wage the state can maintain function even if their state economy is bad. If Arizona has a better economy than Nevada and the federal government sets the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour, than the businesses who pay by the hour will go out of business because they cannot afford to pay the minimum wage. Giving the State’s power to set the minimum wage reduces the Federal Governments power in determining wages. However, the Federal Government can set a limit as to what workers are paid. Since 2009 the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has established that federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour. This act also stipulates that workers must receive overtime pay equivalent to 1.5 times the standard wage, for any hour worked over 40 hours in a single week. This exemplifies how the Federal Government and States work together and can be seen in our everyday lives. Working for the State of Michigan my hourly wage is set above the federal minimum and for every hour worked over forty hours, I receive one and half times my standard wage.