The Tenther movement is a social movement in the United States, the adherents of which espouse the political ideology that the Federal Government's enumerated powers must be read very narrowly to exclude much of what the Federal Government already does, citing the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in support of this. The text of the 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.
Despite the movement's assertions, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Tenth Amendment such that the Amendment does not require a narrow interpretation of the Federal Government's enumerated powers. The Supreme Court affirmed this view in United States v. Darby Lumber, in which the Court stated that the Tenth Amendment "states but a truism that all [powers of the State Sovereign] is retained which has not been surrendered [by ratification of the Constitution and membership in the United States]". In summary, members of the Tenther Movement believe that the Tenth Amendment should be interpreted as requiring that the Federal Government's enumerated powers be construed narrowly. Supporters of the movement also believe that these Supreme Court rulings and the several States voluntary surrendering their powers is unconstitutional and because they violate Supremacy Clause and should be nullified. The Supreme Court, in contrast, interprets the Tenth Amendment as a default rule: in the absence of enumerated federal power, each state is the supreme sovereign of its own territory, but that this rule has no bearing on interpreting the scope of an enumerated federal power (e.g. the power to make uniform bankruptcy law).
Tenthers 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.
Comparison with other movements
The Tenther movement is distinct from libertarianism, although adherents of the two philosophies 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.
Tenthers 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 also one of the justifications cited by pro-slavery advocate John Calhoun before the Civil War.
Joni Ernst, a Republican United States Senator since 2015, said in a September 2013 forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition while she was a member of the Iowa Senate, 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." Ernst's statements were criticized in an article published by the UPI on the grounds that they were based upon a misunderstanding of Tenth Amendment case law.
In a weblog post for Reason magazine, journalist Radley Balko objected to the name "Tenther" as the term 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.
- 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/
- United States Government Printing Office. "TENTH AMENDMENT ---- RESERVED POWERS ---- CONTENTS" (PDF). GPO.gov.
- "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.
- "Joni Ernst wins Iowa GOP U.S. Senate race". The Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on June 4, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
- Radley Balko, "The 'Tenther' Smear" Reason.com, September 22, 2009 http://www.reason.com/blog/show/136201.html