Does the Federal Government have complete control over the States?

Posted on April 25, 2011


The Myth

The Federal Government has complete control over the States. The States must comply with all laws passed by the US Congress.

The Truth

The States must comply with laws passed by the US Congress only if the laws do not violate the United States Constitution. If the laws are unconstitutional the States are free to disregard them. If the States believe the laws are unconstitutional they do not have to wait for the Supreme Court to declare them unconstitutional.

The Facts

When the States ratified the Constitution they did not surrender all of their sovereignty to the Federal Government. The States only transferred small portions of their sovereignty to the Federal Government. These portions of sovereignty, or powers, they transferred are clearly spelled out in the Constitution and mainly have to do with the defense of the nation as a whole, relations with the foreign nations, and relations between the individual States. All other powers remained with the States.

The Constitution created a limited government. It is a limited government because it is limited only to the powers spelled out, or enumerated, in the Constitution.  If a power is not spelled out in the Constitution the power remains with the States or individuals respectively.

If the States had surrendered all of their sovereignty to the federal government then all of the power would be concentrated with the federal government. Our founding fathers greatly feared the concentration of power in Washington DC. They included in the Constitution many protections to prevent that from happening. During the ratification of the Constitution it became clear that many believed these protections were not strong enough so the tenth amendment was added to the constitution

The framers of the Constitution never intended the Supreme Court be the final arbitrator of what is Constitutional and not. The Supreme Court plays an important role in this process but this duty is shared with the other two branches of the federal government, the States, and ultimately with the American people

The Proof

Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution lists the powers of Congress

Article 1 Section 10 lists the powers denied to the States

10th Amendment

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.

“It is fatal heresy to suppose either our state governments are superior to the federal, or the federal to the states. The people to whom all power belongs, have the powers of government into two distinct departments, the leading characteristics of which are foreign and domestic.” Thomas Jefferson

“The powers of the Federal Government are related to external objects and are few. But the powers in the states relate to those great objects which immediately concerns the prosperity if the people.” James Madison

“The capital and leading object of the constitution was to leave with the states all authorities with respected their own citizens only,  and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign and other states.” Thomas Jefferson

“The true barriers of our liberty in this country are our state governments “Thomas Jefferson

“The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived. “
James Madison

In the Kentucky Resolves Thomas Jefferson and in the Virginia Resolves James Madison discuss the doctrine of nullification which allows the states to ignore unconstitutional laws even if the Supreme Court does not declare them unconstitutional.

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