States' Rights: Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:02 The 10th Amendment
  • 1:02 What Are States' Rights?
  • 2:08 Comparison of Federal…
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that individual states have a mutually exclusive right to create and pass laws as long as there is no violation of a constitutional right. In this lesson, we will learn what states' rights are and how they came to be.

The 10th Amendment

Do you enjoy being bossed around? Having someone tell you all the things you can and cannot do? Probably not. Well, that is how the colonists felt they had been treated in England. So, after the American Revolution, when it was time to create the new American government, the founding fathers were very aware of the dangers of allowing an all too powerful national government. So, how did the Framers of the Constitution address this issue? With the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1791, the Bill of Rights, which contains the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was ratified and became law. The 10th Amendment stated: '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.' What this means is that the federal government only has the powers that are enumerated, specifically listed or described, to it in the Constitution. Any right not listed belongs to the states.

What Are States' Rights?

States' rights give individual states the right to pass and enforce laws and operate independently of and with minimal interference by the federal government. This means each state has the right and the power to operate independently from the federal government as long there is no violation of the U.S. Constitution. This created sovereignty, or a state's right to be self-governed. With this responsibility came some restrictions.

A states' right or power cannot exceed that of the federal government. In other words, a state cannot impose a law that is in violation of a federal law. An extreme example would be a woman's right to vote. All free female citizens have a right to vote. An individual state cannot deny the right to any woman to vote because this right is protected by the 19th Amendment.

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