“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 to the U.S. Constitution, ratified 1791
Most of the time on this blog I write about major problems facing the United States as a whole such as economic, military, or foreign policy issues. For example, in my last post, I discussed one of my favorite topics, our very large, and out-of-control, national debt.
However, one of the most important features of our republican form of government is its fundamentally decentralized nature, as described by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution (see above). It stipulates that many public issues must be resolved at the state and local levels. This protects many of our most prized liberties from usurpation by a central authority. For example:
- The Electoral College determines who wins a presidential election rather than the national popular vote. This establishes the authority of the states in a fundamental way. A successful presidential candidate must have majority support in many different states rather than over-relying on huge majorities in just a few large states such as California or New York.
- Voting procedures are primarily determined at the state level (as guaranteed by the Constitution). Again, this increases the political authority of the states and prevents a federal bureaucrat or Congressional majority from dictating how states should regulate elections.
- Educational policy is primarily determined by the states with the exception of a few special needs programs such as Title I and Head Start. Likewise, state departments of education often cede policy control over controversial issues to local school boards. This assures that each local community has much authority over how and what its children will be taught in the public K-12 schools.
- Public health policy is largely under state control. This has been particularly evident during the Covid-19 pandemic where only state governors have the authority to impose state-wide mask mandates and business lockdowns. The red states have done much better than the blue states in allowing businesses to stay open and thereby preserving more jobs.
- Other issues. It would make sense to let state governments determine gun control policy and drug law enforcement in their own states. Such controversial issues as these would be more effectively resolved at the state level.
Conclusion. The many individual liberties which Americans prize so highly are strongly protected by our decentralized form of government where many powers are given directly to the states (and ultimately to local government). Such state and local control prevent remote federal Congressional majorities and bureaucracies from dictating how we should live our lives. Americans often fail to appreciate this essential feature of our constitutional government.