Tenther movement

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The Tenther movement is a social movement in the United States, whose adherents 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.[1] 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.[2]

Despite the movement's assertions, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Tenth Amendment such that the Amendment does not require a narrow interpretation of the federal government's enumerated powers. Instead, the Court holds that the powers of the federal government derive from the states voluntarily surrendering part of their sovereign powers. This view was reiterated 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. In contrast, the Supreme Court 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).

Political and social positions[edit]

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.[1]

Comparison with other movements[edit]


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.

States' rights[edit]

Tenthers argue for the recognition of limited sovereignty of the states.[3] 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.[4] Tentherism was also one of the justifications cited by pro-slavery advocate John Calhoun before the Civil War.[5]

Media appearances[edit]

Joni Ernst, a Republican Senator since 2015,[6] said in a September 2013 forum held by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition while she was a member of the Iowa Senate that Congress should not 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".[5] Ernst's statements were criticized in an article published by the United Press International on the grounds that they were based upon a misunderstanding of Tenth Amendment case law.[5]

In a weblog post for Reason, 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.[7]

Bills against mass surveillance[edit]

In 2013 and 2014, the group successfully introduced bills in state legislatures based on the model act the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. The intent of the bills was to prevent state governments from co-operating with the National Security Agency's mass surveillance projects, by forbidding state universities from doing NSA research or from hosting NSA recruiters, or preventing the provision of water to NSA facilities. Bills were introduced in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, California, Utah, Washington, and Arizona.[8][9][10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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/
  2. ^ United States Government Printing Office. "TENTH AMENDMENT ---- RESERVED POWERS ---- CONTENTS" (PDF). GPO.gov.
  3. ^ "About the Tenth Amendment Center" http://www.tenthamendmentcenter.com/about/
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ a b c Levy, Gabrielle (28 July 2014). "Iowa GOP nominee says states can nullify federal laws". UPI. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Radley Balko, "The 'Tenther' Smear" Reason.com, September 22, 2009 http://www.reason.com/blog/show/136201.html
  8. ^ Ackerman, Spencer (2014-02-12). "Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre's water supply". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  9. ^ Madison, Tiffany (2013-12-11), "Arizona senator moves to ban unconstitutional NSA spying", Washington Times, Arizona Sen. Kelli Ward announced Monday that she will act to ban the National Security Agency from unconstitutional operations in her state. Ward describes her nullification legislation, the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, as a pre-emptive strike against the embattled agency.
  10. ^ Vijayan, Jaikumar (2014-01-07), California lawmakers move to bar state help to NSA, Computer World, The Utah bill aims to prohibit state and local agencies from providing water to a giant new NSA data center near Salt Lake City.
  11. ^ "California Lawmakers Introduce Fourth Amendment Protection Act, push back against NSA spying" (Press release). 2014-01-06. Archived from the original on 2014-01-09. Retrieved 2020-01-14. Blocks public universities from serving as NSA research facilities or recruiting grounds.

External links[edit]