Many people think the federal government is just too powerful today. But how did we get here?
The Constitution lists 17 distinct congressional powers, including the power to collect taxes and regulate interstate commerce. But there was a sizable gray area where the state and federal governments now have fought for over more than 200 years.
In 1791, the Bill of Rights passed, including the 10th Amendment, which says, "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."
The most striking test of this gray area came in 1860 and '61, when 11 states voted to secede the Union — ushering in a Civil War that would kill 700,000 people. The Union's victory made the national government supreme.
The question was far from settled.
Although the judiciary branch was supposed to act as a check on those powers, the courts have mostly stood by as the federal power grew immensely.
One Supreme Court case that's worth mentioning is Wickard v. Filburn. In this 1942 case, the government used the commerce clause to regulate wheat that was just for personal use. Justice Jackson ruled that even if an activity is local and not regarded as commerce, if enough of these small projects added up, Congress could regulate.
Fast forward to the 21st century: President Bush expanded the government power with the Patriot Act. Obama has gotten into running banks and so much more.
And now, the states' rights movement has resurfaced — looking to limit the commerce clause and curve the federal government's power, particularly over the Second Amendment. Add that notorious precedent-setting Wickard v. Filburn case — it could be the key for modern day gun owners and those who just want their rights left to them.
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