Enumerated PowersMuch attention is focused today on whether some action by the federal government violates the Bill of Rights. (I only wish the courts would do the right thing more often.) But an almost forgotten question today is whether the federal government is operating within the sphere of its enumerated powers.
Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government a certain list of duties and areas of jurisdiction. Article VI asserts that, within these limited areas, the federal government shall be supreme over the states. But the Ninth and Tenth Amendments together make it perfectly clear that as far as federal powers go, the powers enumerated are to be taken as a strictly exhaustive list.
What has happened instead, beginning during the Civil War and continuing through the Progressive Era, the New Deal, two World Wars, the Great Society, and up through the present day, is an unwarranted expansion of federal power, trading on weak and unconvincing extentions of the Commerce or General Welfare clauses of the Constitution. Today, the Enumerated Powers doctrine is all but dead, and the federal government has no effective limit to its jurisdiction.
This has to stop. I support efforts to enforce the Bill of Rights in general, and the Tenth Amendment in particular, which 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." And each state government is in turn to be bound by the limits of its own individual Constitution.
The Bill of Rights is vital, but it was originally only the fail-safe. Many of the framers of the Constitution considered it unnecessary because the powers of the federal government had been so strictly enumerated. History may have proved them naive, but they had the right idea.
For more thoughts on states rights, please see my article on Abortion and the Tenth Amendment