Thursday, August 26, 2010

States' Rights

10th Amendment: "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."

It is this phrase that is at the heart of any argument that includes the term "states' rights". This Amendment, in combination with Article VI, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, called the Supremacy Clause, are the definitive references on the issue of state's rights.

"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 Supremacy Clause asserts that laws adopted by the federal government, when exercising its constitutional powers, are generally paramount over any conflicting laws adopted by state governments. However, the Supremacy Clause only applies if the federal government is acting in pursuit of its constitutionally authorized powers.

There have been numerous times in the history of our great nation that these concepts have been argued over from various angles and for numerous reasons. The first argument related to the Alien & Sedition acts, pushed through by the Federalist John Adams. These acts were directly spoken and written against by Thomas Jefferson, who founded the Democratic-Republican Party in response. Eventually, Jefferson became President, the Alien & Sedition Acts ended and the peoples' concern regarding the topic of states' rights waned for a time in the public eye.

Throughout the years the Tenth Amendment and Supremacy Clause have come into play in numerous Supreme Court rulings on issues as diverse as taxation, reviewing lower court rulings, state interference with the work of U.S. Marshals, and various diverse state laws, without too much attention from the American citizenry.

Then in the years leading up to the Civil War it began to be discussed again. First, President Andrew Jackson and his Vice President, John C. Calhoon, were split on the issue of the rights of the states vs. those of the federal government in a dispute having to do with a tariff imposed by the federal government, which the southern states considered detrimental to their interests. This split was such a fundamental disagreement that it eventually caused Vice President Calhoon to resign over the matter. Nicknamed the "Tariff of Abominations" the disputed law was declared null and void by South Carolina. This action caused President Jackson to send a flotilla of navy ships, along with a proclamation against the state and a threat to send federal troops in to enforce the tariff, if necessary. This dispute was luckily worked out diplomatically between the Congress (which lowered the tariff) and the state (which cancelled the nullification).

Then a bit more time passed and the issue of states' rights once again became a hot the debate over slavery. At that time, it was the Democrats and the south crowing about "states' rights" and the nation's first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, taking the opposite side. It should also be noted that in addition to being opposed to slavery, it was this "first Republican president" who, not only signed the first income tax into law (first as a flat tax on incomes above $800 [$19,307 in 2010 dollars], then changed it to a progressive tax a year later), but also greatly expanded the size of the federal government by creating the system of National Banks and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the first paper currency and even the official Thanksgiving holiday...many of these (especially the taxes part) are concepts that are held in great disdain by modern republicans.

But by far the most contrary to many in the modern GOP, Lincoln also promoted voting rights for blacks and was responsible for the very 14th Amendment that the modern GOP now seems to want to abolish. And then, of course, as the ultimate statement for support of a strong national government over the sovereignty of the states; when the states started seceding from the Union (as some red states, like Texas have threatened), the "first Republican President" led the country to war against them.

All during the Civil war, it was not the Republicans making the states' rights argument...just the opposite, it was the Democrats. When Lincoln was assassinated just as the war was ending, and Reconstruction began, the issue of states' rights once again fell by the wayside as a focus of regular discussion among citizens. That stayed the case for a long time, through the years of rebuilding and growth that followed; it was still occasionally being used by those on the side opposite the GOP.

It was used to protest the abolition of slavery, to protest the Amendments making blacks citizens and granting them "equal protection under the law". It was still being used later by the "Dixiecrats" to profess that they opposed racial integration, they believed in "white supremacy", and liked the Jim Crow laws. They wanted to keep segregation, were against blacks and whites being able to marry, that they wanted to continue voting and education inequality in the South, that they liked "separate but equal" and wanted to keep it that way. But once the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and other statutes made their racist cause against blacks become a moot point, those "Dixiecrats" divided back up. Some, like Strom Thurmond, rejoined the Democrats and some went over to the Republicans on the other side.

During the 60's, "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater, used the concept of "states' rights" as part of his campaign for the presidency. This seems to be when the switch occurred...when the states' rights banner changed hands from Left to Right.

Since the Right is now carrying it, the issues have changed slightly as well. Goldwater himself eventually started speaking against the growing influence of the religious right over the GOP back in the 1980's (incidentally, this is also what drove me out of the party as well). Now that the religious right seems to be doing most of the driving of the Republican Party the issues that are being shouted about in relation to states' rights include being against women's rights, against reproductive rights, against gay rights, against Muslims, against the 14th Amendment (which the Republican Party established in the first place), against anything remotely Democratic, against President Obama, .

My biggest fear right now is that the bulk of the country doesn’t seem to be seeing through this obvious ploy to recapture control of the country so that they can bring back the horrendous old policies that were so rampant in the Bush years.

Don’t buy the argument…it’s NOT really about “states’ rights” at’s just about the golden rules…they that have the gold, make the rules.

George Wallace, the Alabama governor—who famously declared in his inaugural address, "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!"

Wallace later remarked that he should have said, "States' rights now! States' rights tomorrow! States' rights forever!"

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