There is little that’s glitzy or headline-grabbing about the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. They don’t contain hallmark words like “freedom” or outline a specific important right that we’ve come to take for granted. That said, some scholars would argue that those two amendments are among the most important of all the constitutional provisions.
The Ninth Amendment reads as follows: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Counterintuitively, unlike most of the Bill of Rights, the Ninth Amendment doesn’t convey actual rights upon us. It merely prohibits the federal government from claiming more power in the absence of direction to the contrary. It helps stop the federal government from assuming power in the gray areas of our jurisprudence.
This amendment receives very little press today, either good or bad. Such was not the case in 1787, when the Constitution was being ratified by the states.
The Anti-Federalists, those who wanted to limit the new federal government, argued for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights, perhaps not trusting the new federal government to overreach at some point. Therefore, they sought to articulate clearly more limitations on federal power.
The Tenth Amendment reads: “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.”
In short this amendment states that the new federal government only possessed those powers delegated to it by the U.S. Constitution, and helped to cement the new government as truly federal.
Is our federal government today truly limited to those powers as enumerated? Many would disagree. Many see our federal government as bloated and invasive.
Whether you agree or disagree, as we conclude our survey of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, ask yourself this question: Under what other country’s constitution or declaration of rights would I want to live?
Despite its flaws, for good or bad, the American legal system is the envy of the free world.