The federal government is a government of delegated powers, meaning that it has only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution. All other powers, the Tenth Amendment reads, “are reserved to the states . . . or to the people.” During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court used the Tenth Amendment and its principle of reserved powers to limit the growth of federal authority, especially in economic regulation. According to the Court, if federal authority were allowed to reach such “local” activities as agriculture, manufacture, and mining, it would invade the reserved powers of the states. The use of the doctrine of reserved powers as a limit on federal authority was largely abandoned after 1937, but it has reappeared in such recent cases as National League of Cities v. Usery (1976) and Printz v. United States (1992).
Last Updated: 2006