The movement of states declaring sovereignty in regards to the Tenth Amendment has created quite a stir among constitutional conservatives lately. Although not widely reported, thirteen states currently have legislation pending to affirm their states’ rights as defined by the U.S. Constitution. Several states, including California, have passed similar resolutions in the recent past. These resolutions symbolize the frustration of state governments being subjected to mandates and other federal laws that strict constructionists view as unconstitutional.
For those readers not familiar with the Tenth Amendment, it reads: “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 Tenth Amendment, along with the Ninth Amendment, powerfully affirms the limits of the United States government and directs a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist followers urged states to ratify the Constitution despite Hamilton’s opposition to the Bill of Rights. But Hamilton’s principle argument against the Bill of Rights was that it was unnecessary, and that once certain rights were affirmed, others assumed to be held by the states and people would be at risk of abuse.
Hamilton asked in Federalist Number 84, “For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?”
But over the years, courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have justified many federal infringements of state sovereignty through their loose interpretation of clauses in the Constitution. For example, the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8 states: “The Congress shall have Power… To regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and with the Indian tribes.” This clause has been used to justify federal laws ranging from the illegality of certain drugs to gun-free zones around schools, criminalizing actions even when they do not cross state boundaries. Originalists, such as those politicians supporting the state resolutions, claim such laws are invalid.
American tax policy is a principle cause of the federal government becoming so involved in the micromanagement of the states and individuals. As I discussed last week, a consequence of the Sixteenth Amendment has been the growth of centralized government power. The federal government now takes so much money from its citizens, that any tax increase by a state might just be the straw that breaks the back of that state’s economy. When states let budgets get out of hand – a condition that has arisen in many states, including of course California – states then go begging to the federal government for a budget bailout. Whereas the feds always seem to have plenty of money, states are incapable of raising money through the inflation tax. What we have now are states subservient to the union they form.
But it wasn’t always this way. States’ rights over centralized power was the common mindset of Americans prior to the American Civil War. The Civil War redefined America by crushing the Confederacy, which was grounded in the belief that states were sovereign and could separate themselves from the union if they so desired. The states’ rights movement is gaining steam once again as the central government prepares for the latest round of power-building.
Activists pushing for centralized approaches to social problems present a special concern to states’ rightists. For example those crusading for nationalized healthcare avoid the fact that such a system is not authorized by the U.S. Constitution. Rather, these activists focus on the emotional heartstrings of citizens to allow the creation of such a system. Yet there is an alternative that both states’ rightists and socialists can support. States can provide their own socialized healthcare system if they so choose. Massachusetts provides free health insurance coverage for those citizens considered eligible. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) claims this program is a great success.
The states’ rights argument goes both ways. Sometimes states infringe upon areas where the federal government has been granted authority to protect. For example, take state laws restricting gun rights. California has among the strictest laws in the union regarding what arms one can and cannot possess within its boundaries. State legislators have claimed such laws are reasonable, and so far California’s restrictions on its citizens’ right to keep and bear arms has not been significantly challenged. As a right that the founders assumed already existed and reaffirmed in the Second Amendment, arms restrictions should not be in the dominion of the states’ laws. The landmark Supreme Court decision in the case District of Columbia v. Heller last year may work to reverse some of these unconstitutional arms restrictions laws through incorporation (via the Fourteenth Amendment) by lower courts when state and local laws are challenged.
In the unfortunate case that these individual and state rights resolutions are ignored by the growing power of the central government, what is the next step? A world government? With the ratification of the UN Law of the Sea Treaty likely later this year by the U.S., a world government over the oceans is already taking root. The U.S. must take a stand to stop handing over authority to an organization with much anti-American sentiment and socialist objectives. It’s time to make a stand for sovereignty, at both the state and national levels.
Colin McKim is an environmental management and protection junior and a Mustang Daily political columnist.