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State Sovereignty

Our national government (all three branches) has been allowed to assume a posture which has enabled it to impose policy decisions on the states and individuals on matters that are essentially reserved to the states and the people, thereby infringing on state sovereignty. 


The powers granted to the national government and those prohibited to the states are clearly enumerated in the US Constitution (Article 1, Sections 8 and 10). Additionally, the Bill of Rights clarifies and further defines individual rights and state sovereignty.


Nevertheless, even with the emphasis of the 10th Amendment, the scope and influence of the national government has exceeded, by far, the limited authority and articulated constraints placed upon it by the Constitution.  


“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.”

10th Amendment, U.S. Constitution


Over time, there have been developments that have had an adverse effect on state sovereignty. For example, the 17th Amendment, which provides that senators must be elected by popular vote rather than by the state legislatures, has tipped the balance of political power and resulted in a massive expansion of national government overreach. 


The Founders’ original intent for the U.S. Senate, elected by state legislatures, was to represent the interests of state governments. United States Senators were to resist the tendency of the U.S House to push political power from the states to the national government, and to ‘keep solutions local’. George Mason argued that state legislative selection gave states the power of self-defense against the national government.


According to James Madison, giving state legislatures the power to choose Senators provided a “double advantage,” both “favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former.”  (Federalist 62) 


On the other hand, the states have been provided certain mechanisms, if they choose, to preserve their state sovereignty such as Article V of the U.S. Constitution which not only provides a means for the national government to keep the states in check, but also for the states to bridle the national government if it no longer respects the boundaries established in the U.S. Constitution. 


“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, . . . . “ (Article 5, U.S. Constitution)


“(Article V) equally enables the general and the state governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.”  (Federalist No. 43)


During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Mason expressed opposition to the provisions limiting the power to propose amendments to Congress. According to the Convention records, Mason thought that "no Amendment of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive," as he verily believed would be the case. In response, Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry made a motion to amend the article to reintroduce language requiring that a convention can be called when two-thirds of the States apply for proposing amendments.

National Association of Former State Legislators
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