“It is only as a state that Puerto Rico will have permanent 10th Amendment powers over its non-federal affairs, as well as voting power in Congress,” said Dick Thornburgh.
What is the 10th amendment? It is part of the Bill of Rights. It says this: “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.”
In other words, the federal government makes decisions for all the states about the things over which the U.S. Constitution gives it power. Decisions that are not mentioned in the Constitution are made by the states.
Decisions about education, for example, are not discussed in the Constitution. The federal government can insist that laws about education in states must apply to everyone equally, but Washington cannot tell states how to run their schools.
What about Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico is not a state. As a territory, Puerto Rico is not mentioned in the 10th amendment. Instead, it is covered by the Territory Clause. This part of the Constitution, also called the Territorial Clause, says, “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”
This means that Congress can make cockfighting illegal and the death penalty legal in Puerto Ricol, even though the U.S. Constitution says nothing about sports or executions — and even though Puerto Rico’s laws said the exact opposite.
In the Sanchez Valle case before the Supreme Court, the court said, “’The limits of the Tenth Amendment do not apply to Puerto Rico’ because that provision protects powers ‘‘reserved to the States’ and Puerto Rico is not a State.” This ruling confirms that Puerto Rico is not covered by the 10th amendment.
As a state, Puerto Rico will have 10th amendment rights. Any decisions not given to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution will be up to the government of Puerto Rico.
As long as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico has only the power Congress gives to the Island’s government.
This is just one more reason to choose statehood for Puerto Rico.