Tenth Amendment Claims Regarding Federal Benefits

Conservative governors routinely cite the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as legitimate excuse for denying federal benefits to the residents of their state.

I hope some resident of Montana, Arkansas or South Carolina files a federal lawsuit challenging their state governor denying them access to federal benefits under the American Rescue Plan; namely the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Tenth Amendment claims do not override a person’s 14th Amendment right to equal application of the law. It is patently unconstitutional for any official acting under color of law to offer benefits to some people but not all people.

In its 1987 decision in South Dakota v. Dole, which arguably remains the leading case regarding the use of the federal government’s conditional spending power, the Court held that legislation enacted pursuant to the Spending Clause must be in pursuit of the “general welfare.” In addition, the Dole Court held that any conditions attached to the receipt of federal funds must:

(1) be unambiguously established so that recipients can knowingly accept or reject them;

(2) be germane to the federal interest in the particular national projects or programs to which the money is directed;

(3) not violate other provisions of the Constitution, such as the First Amendment or the Due Process or Takings Clauses of the Fifth Amendment; and

(4) not cross the line from enticement to impermissible coercion, such that states have no real choice but to accept the funding and enact or administer a federal regulatory program.

The fourth of these criteria, in particular, is intended to ensure that any conditions on federal grant funds do not run afoul of

the Tenth Amendment’s prohibition on the federal government’s “commandeering” of state or local governments or officials by requiring them to carry out federal programs.