What powers and freedoms do states have? Our political leaders vacillate on the question. Those holding power in Washington want national authority to carry out their agenda, while those out of power invoke states' rights to block that. These positions are then reversed when one party loses office. Generally, America's political leaders put one principle first: the Vince Lombardi Principle. Do whatever you must so that your interests prevail.
Let's go to the Constitution itself to see what it says about the states.
States get unique powers
The powers states have are reserved powers -- those on which the Constitution is silent. Laws surrounding driving, marriage, drugs, licensing of professionals, such as dentists, and school law. Under the Tenth Amendment, they belong to the states.
What other kinds of powers are there?
- Expressed powers are specifically assigned to the national government and Congress under Article I, section 8. Granting patents for example, declaring war or coining money.
- Denied powers are specifically forbidden to the state governments. See Article I, section 9. These would include making foreign treaties, printing separate money.
- Concurrent powers are held by both levels of government simultaneously, for example chartering banks or operating prisons.
Sounds good, but everything doesn't fit neatly
What about fighting pollution? Pollution is created in one state but then blows into others, suggesting that Congress should make these laws.
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