Civic Literacy Curriculum

Question 59: Under the United States Constitution, some powers belong to the states. Which of the following is one of those powers?


Q59: Under the United States Constitution, some powers belong to the states. Which of the following is one of those powers? 

A. Provide safety 
B. Issue a driver’s license 
C. Provide schooling and education 
D. All of the above

Question Background Information


Under our Constitution, most political powers belong to the states. As the Tenth Amendment makes clear, unless a political power is given to the federal government, it is assumed to remain with the states. This broad authority to regulate on behalf of the health, welfare, safety, and morals of the people is called the police power. 
Thus, the states retain authority over issues such as:

  • protecting the public health
  • providing safety and protection (such as police and fire departments)
  • providing schooling and education 
  • regulating zoning and land use
  • administering most licenses, such as business, marriage, and driver’s licenses.

The state police power is wide-ranging, but there are still limits on it: a state’s use of its police powers cannot violate either the federal Constitution or the restrictions in a state’s own constitution. 

Additional Content

Offline Activity


This activity offers students the chance to learn about the authority of the state governments by looking at the classic Supreme Court discussion of the police powers, in the case of whether a state has authority to use its power to regulate health to mandate vaccines. In this activity, students will read a short history of the local government ideas at the Founding and sections of that case and annotate them, noting words or section that either stand out to them or that they have questions about.


Provide each group with Federalism
Provide each group with a copy of Jacobson v. Massachusetts
Optional: provide each group with a copy of the Federalist on Federalism

Required files


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C.
    • If students are in pairs rather than groups, divide them based on ability as well, pairing those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
  2. Provide each group/pair with a copy of Jacobson and the history of Federalism. Consider providing the Federalist on Federalism.
  3. Explain that they are to read the document and each group member should annotate their copy.
    • Tell students to write at least three questions and three comments/observations. The notes should be written in the margins of the document provided. Examples of questions: 
      • Are there any limits that exist on the police power?
      • What does “license” mean?
    • Examples of comments:
      • It’s interesting that the judges, in that case, don’t think the preamble matters when deciding the powers or liberties in the Constitution.
      • They clearly do not want the judges deciding whether states are making good or bad decisions.
    • Emphasize that there is no “wrong” question or observation and encourage them to write down any question or observation that comes to mind, even if they go over the required total.
  4. Provide the groups/pairs with time to annotate and discuss; 15-20 minutes depending on the class and the amount of content to annotate.
    • Circulate and talk briefly with each group. If they are having trouble coming up with questions or observations, then ask questions to stimulate their conversation.
  5. At the end of the activity, facilitate a class discussion, allowing the students to lead with the questions and comments/observations that they wrote in the margins.
    • You may wish to include a discussion on how the Articles and the Constitution are different. A copy of the Constitution is included so that you can use it to expand the discussion.

Discussion Prompts

Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting. 

  • The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
  • The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events.


The argument over the division of power between the states and the federal government is older than the nation itself. Under the Articles of Confederation, the states enjoyed almost all of the power, but the result was a federal government too weak to defend the country. Recognizing the dangers of this overly weak federal government, some authority was shifted from the states to the central government, better balancing the Union while retaining the bulk of state authority.

Prompt 1

While the Founding Fathers knew that a sufficiently strong central government was important, they also knew that the states needed to retain most of their authority. As a result, they made sure that all those powers not listed directly in the Constitution as federal in nature would be retained by the states. Can you name one of those powers? Why do you think that it is important for states to retain most of the power in our system?

Prompt 2

How much power belonged to the states versus the federal government has been a topic of discussion -- and a point of contention -- from the beginning. Why do you think that this is so? Why might states be so determined to protect their sovereignty and maintain their power? How might doing so protect liberty? What would be some advantages of local government? Use current and past events to help support your answer.