A Case for the 10th
March 2nd, 2012 | Back to Blog Listing


The 10th Amendment:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states, respectfully, or to the people."
The other day I came across an online rant ripping on presidential hopeful Ron Paul for his support of the 10th amendment. The post was essentially emphasizing that if we actually followed the 10th amendment of the Constitution, the country would be riddled with bigotry. It went on to discuss how a number of states have anti-homosexual laws, anti-sodomy laws, anti-civil rights laws, and other seemingly archaic and anti-intellectual concepts, many of which have been invalidated by federal laws.

I come across these sorts of posts from time to time and am always disappointed at the short-sightedness of the analysis provided. I'm not sure if people are unable to wrap their heads around the scope of the 10th amendment, or are just unwilling to, but there are huge upsides embedded in our Constitutional fabric.

Firstly, let me concede that there would no doubt exist various social and fiscal injustices across the country if the federal government stopped usurping states rights. But in the absence of this, over 300 million people are essentially forced to accept homogenized points of view of whatever party happens to have congressional and executive control. That was certainly not the vision of the United States. Even more unfortunate is that in the long run, it essentially guarantees all walks of the political spectrum will endure measures they do not agree with, and may never agree with.

One of the reasons for this is that ignoring the 10th amendment generally requires that force be used in order to get most agendas passed. Keep in mind that the use of force is not limited to guns and bombs. A combination of divisive politics, fear tactics, and far-leaning partisan mandates tend to be the weapon of choice for American politicians. It's pretty easy to stir up fear in a country as large as the United States, especially in a time when politicians are no longer held to media scrutiny. Circumventing our most fundamental rule of law with lavish, empty promises of political solutions offers nothing but a dangerous and highly volatile band-aid to a potentially very serious issue.

The drive of a progressive, intellectual, and advancing society should be to win the hearts and minds of people through diplomacy and discussion, not through scare-tactics and force. Since it is the alleged plight of liberals, progressives, sensible conservatives, and libertarians to specifically not engage in forceful tactics in order to promote an agenda, opposing the 10th amendment seems to be counterproductive to ones own core belief system, provided one falls into that category. The 10th amendment provides the United States with an excellent method for developing and exploring varying ideologies without needing to forcibly impose those values on the entire country.

If you've ever entertained the idea of leaving the United States because you disagree with so many modern policies (perhaps global imperialism), you've no doubt pondered how difficult this would be to see through. The idea of permanently moving your entire life to a different culture, with a different government, with a different monetary system, where you would have to completely re-assimilate yourself seems overwhelming (and should incidentally give you some pause over what immigrants in our own country might endure). But this is one of the many reasons that the United States was designed with such an interesting and ingenious framework. It is well within most people's practical means to relocate to another city or state for any number of reasons, differences of political ideology certainly being one reason. This is what the model for a small government has to offer, many vastly differing opinions respected and housed within a national framework.

I know for a fact that I have no desire to become a resident of a state that collects a state income tax. I'm not opposed to taxation as a practical means, I just believe it's better to tax people on consumption, not on their output. The State of Texas provides me with a way to accomplish this by not taxing my income, and rather by taxing my property. If I live in a mansion, I will pay the state [through the county] dearly for it; if I live in a humble home, I will save. It's far from perfect, but this seems like a more reasonable approach to me. However, my personal preference is far from the point. The important distinction is that I am able to make a choice about this philosophical ideal and live my life accordingly. If the State of Texas were to impose a state income tax, I would naturally weigh my options, but would very likely move out of the state.

If we accepted that the Federal Government did not have the authority to control state actions (outside of the limited scope of the Constitution), and actually protected this liberty, it would be perfectly acceptable for a state to legalize marijuana, to openly develop stem-cell technologies, and to provide state healthcare benefits to all residents, even homosexual couples. This is a good thing! And if it turned out that same state required a 40% state income tax to meet those goals, I would probably still avoid that state, despite supporting the many progressive ideals the state had to offer. This is the trivial ideal of letting localities determine their own fates so that citizens (aka: "the people") can decide what works and what does not.

On the rare occasion that a philosophical shift occurs in the country and presents an issue requiring national attention, the Constitution was designed with a clear amendment process. This process has been used many times in the past to address wide-sweeping changes to the federal government. It should not be casually ignored simply because the modern generation is too impatient and intolerant of one another to seek compromise.

Yes, the process takes longer. But when fellow states adopt the ideals of one another as a result of this methodology, it is because they genuinely support whatever measure they're adopting, not because they're being forced to do so by a federal executive order. This is a hugely positive concept for creating a progressive society because it promotes change instead of dictating it.

Unfortunately, it is a sad state of affairs when self-proclaimed progressives are able to justify their use of force in the same way neo-conservatives have done for over a decade. As a country, I strongly believe we should strive to be more tolerant and accepting of our fellow citizens fears, bigotries, and levels of ignorance, not force them to see our own ways, even if history does prove those ways 'right'. This notion was well understood 236 years ago and is specifically why the 10th amendment was written. I hope we are someday able to remember that.