Thursday, March 18, 2010

States’ Rights and Wrongs

The New York Times has a story about a mostly right-wing movement in some states to defy the federal government.

“Who is the sovereign, the state or the federal government?” said State Representative Chris N. Herrod, a Republican from Provo, Utah, and leader of the 30-member Patrick Henry Caucus, which formed last year and led the assault on federal legal barricades in the session that ended Thursday.

Alabama, Tennessee and Washington are considering bills or constitutional amendments that would assert local police powers to be supreme over the federal authority, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, a research and advocacy group based in Los Angeles. And Utah, again not to be outdone, passed a bill last week that says federal law enforcement authority, even on federal lands, can be limited by the state.

In Virginia, the state’s attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli has threatened to sue the federal government if healthcare passes. Mr. Cuccinelli has made himself famous for some pretty interesting views, including giving credence to the birthers and telling colleges in Virginia to re-write their anti-discrimination policies to exclude gays. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, it’s ironic that someone who advocates for limited government would then attempt to coerce colleges and universities to do his bidding.

Every so often — about once a generation, it seems — we go through this spasm of interest in states’ rights, usually at the behest of conservatives when the federal government comes up with something they don’t like such as school integration, voting rights for minorities, or civil rights. Little groups get together to make noise and corner some state representative into sponsoring a bill to thumb the state’s nose at the feds, and in doing so they usually find some law professor to back them up with a pre-Civil War interpretation of the Constitution. They skip over the fact that Article 6 says the federal government outranks the states, and so the courts have found in just about every challenge to federal authority. These legal geniuses are a lot like the far-right religious scholars who cite the book of Leviticus in the bible as their basis for their gay-bashing but skip the parts that deal with other sins such as wearing cotton underwear and wool socks or eating lobster. And most of these groups were strangely silent when Republican administrations were exercising their federal authority over states’ rights when they shut down legally-established medical marijuana operations or, in the most extreme case, passed a law putting the United States government in charge of the case of one Terri Schiavo. Their outrage then seemed to be missing… or at the least, selective.

But if the states truly feel that they can refuse to obey the federal laws they don’t like, then the federal government can do what the feds do best: cut off the money. You don’t want to be subject to federal rules? Fine. Then the rest of us don’t have to pay for your federally-subsidized things such as roads, schools, and infrastructure; pay for them yourself. The citizens of the state will then say that if the feds cut off the money, they’ll stop paying federal taxes. Okay, fine; then we’ll send in the GAO and the National Guard to repossess all the stuff you bought with federal dollars and sell it on E-bay. Oh, and when a natural disaster like a flood or wildfire or a hurricane hits, don’t come crying to Washington to bail you out. Remember; states’ rights.

These groups are like rebellious teenagers who insist on asserting their own independence and defying authority… as long as the parents are still around to feed them and give them their weekly allowance.

HT to the FC.