Adherents invoke the concept that the states share sovereignty with the federal government and with the people by citing the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as the basis for their legal and ideological beliefs:
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.
Adherents believe that political authority enumerated in the United States Constitution as belonging to the Federal Government must be read very narrowly to exclude much of what the national government already does. They argue for the recognition of limited sovereignty of the States. Opponents use the term in order to draw parallels between adherents and 19th century states' rights secessionists, as well as the movement to resist Federal Civil Rights legislation. Tentherism was one of the justifications used by pro-slavery advocate John Calhoun before the Civil War.
Some object to the name "Tenther" as it originated as a pejorative used by those opposed to the movement's ideas, in an attempt to reference and draw parallels to conspiratorial movements such as Birthers and Truthers.
Joni Ernst, a Republican member of the Iowa Senate, said in a September 2013 forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, that Congress shouldn't bother to pass laws "that the states would consider nullifying”, referring to what she describes as "200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights." According to an article published by the UPI, Supreme Court case law has determined that the Constitution forbids nullification, and interprets the Tenth Amendment as a basic statement, and not a prohibition against the federal government from passing additional laws not already enumerated in the Constitution, and that Erst "may wish to brush up on her high school civics."
Adherents oppose a broad range of federal government programs, including the War on Drugs, federal surveillance, and other limitations on privacy and civil and economic liberties, plus numerous New Deal legislation to Great Society legislation, such as Medicaid, Medicare, the VA health system and the G.I. Bill.
Tenther movement should not be confused with libertarianism, although the two often have similar positions. Whereas libertarians oppose programs such as the War on Drugs on ideological grounds, seeing them as unjustified government intrusion into lives of its citizens, tenthers hold that such programs may be perfectly acceptable but only when implemented by individual states. Libertarians are opposed to sodomy laws and believe that "the government has no business in the bedroom". In contrast, it has been argued by tenthers that the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated sodomy laws in all U.S. states where they remained, was an unconstitutional federal intrusion into what should have been a states' rights area; from the tenther perspective, "there clearly is no right to sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution" and "the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards". Tenthers also oppose involvement of the Federal Government in enforcing the federal War on Drugs, particularly in states that have decriminalizing legislation such as Colorado and Washington.
- "'Tenther' movement aims to put power back in states' hands". CNN. February 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "The anger behind the so-called 'Tenther' movement comes from what advocates see as the federal government's forcing policies on the states -- most notably on health care reform, economic recovery measures and social issues."
- Ian Millhiser, "‘Tenther’ Activists Add The Federal Highway System To List Of Programs To Kill" Thinkprogress.org, August 27, 2009 http://thinkprogress.org/2009/08/27/tenther-highway/
- "About the Tenth Amendment Center" http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/about/
- Ian Millhiser, "Rally 'Round the "True Constitution": Convinced that the 10th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits spending programs and regulations? Conservatives have a movement for you." "The American Prospect" August 25, 2009 http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=rally_round_the_true_constitution
- Levy, Gabrielle (28 July 2014). "Iowa GOP nominee says states can nullify federal laws". UPI. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- Radley Balko, "The 'Tenther' Smear" Reason.com, September 22, 2009 http://www.reason.com/blog/show/136201.html
- "Libertarians Join Liberals in Opposing Sodomy Law". New York Times. 2003.
- "Federal Courts and the Imaginary Constitution".