Editor’s note: Today we hear from a guest author, someone who contacted me asking about the 10th Amendment implications of Daylight Saving Time. It was immediately clear that he knew more about this than me, so I asked him to write this post. I hope you find it as helpful as I did. - Scott
Many of us were taught in school that the federal government is the top of the authority hierarchy with the states next in line, and finally city and county government at the bottom. This simplified view of things likely comes from a phrase in the U.S. Constitution often referred to as the supremacy clause. Article VI, clause 2 of the Constitution reads, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
The key words that many people overlook are, “...which shall be made in Pursuance thereof...” So, only laws made in pursuance of, or consistent with, the Constitution are the supreme law of the land.
The 10th Amendment makes it clear that the federal government’s authority is described in its entirety within the Constitution and that anything not included there remains the province of the the states and the people: “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 federal government is, therefore, one of enumerated powers—it may exercise control over only those matters that the states and the people have explicitly delegated to it.
We all know that’s not the practical reality of 21st century America. The federal government does thousands of things everyday it has not been granted authority to do. The usual response is to bring a law suit and have the courts decide whether a law is legitimate but think about that for a moment—why would the people, who have delegated limited authority to the federal government, turn to that same government to ask if what it is doing is OK? It’s like asking your children to “interpret” their own bed time!
The U.S. Constitution does not delegate authority to the federal government to regulate time but that didn’t stop Congress from passing a variety of laws governing how we set our clocks, including the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and the Standard Time Act of 1918.
Since these laws purport to govern something that is outside of Congressional authority, does that invalidate them? According to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison (1803), “...an act of the legislature repugnant to the Constitution is void.”
What would happen if a state or group of states decided that they did not want to use daylight savings time? Or decided to use it year-round? What recourse would the federal government have? Even if it went to court to try to force those states to comply with the Uniform Time Act how could such a decision be enforced?
It turns out the Supreme Court has already weighed in on the issue, albeit indirectly. In no fewer than four decisions, the Court has made it clear the the federal government cannot force states to carry out a federal law. The federal government has to enforce its own laws since the resources of the states cannot be “commandeered” by the federal government to execute its laws, a legal concept that has become known as the “anti-commandeering principle.”
In the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), Justice Joseph Story held that the federal government could not force states to implement the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. In New York v. United States (1992), [regarding hazardous waste regulations] Sandra Day O’Conner wrote for the majority: “…Congress may not simply commandee[r] the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.”
In Printz v. United States (1997), sheriffs Jay Printz and Richard Mack sued over implementation of the Brady background checks; the court held, “The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program...such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.” And in Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), the Court held that the federal government cannot force the states to act against their will by withholding funds in a coercive manner. Chief Justice John Roberts argued that allowing Congress to essentially punish states that refused to go along violates the constitutional separation of powers.
So where does all this leave us with respect to daylight savings time? Since the federal government has no authority to regulate the measurement of time and it cannot force the states to carry out federal laws, the states simply need to, in the words of the principle author of the Constitution, James Madison, “refuse to cooperate with officers of the union.” Stop changing time twice a year. It’s that simple. Do our state legislatures have the backbone to make it happen through their own legislation? That remains to be seen.
For more information about the anti-commandeering principle, visit the Tenth Amendment Center. TAC has made great progress on a wide variety of projects all based on anti-commandeering and related legal concepts, such as the nullification of marijuana laws, the use of gold & silver as legal tender, putting an end to militarization of police forces, civil asset forfeiture reform, and many other issues where the federal government oversteps its legal authority.
Michael Gibbs is the deputy director of the Arizona Tenth Amendment Center