Wednesday, August 06, 2014
In the past, I have, for several reasons, argued against the notion of "states'
rights" and the related idea of the separate states as being "laboratories of democracy". In the first of the two links, I pretty much
summed up what I think the rights of the states (which can only derive from
individual rights) consist of:
The only valid application of the notion of states' rights is to permit states to handle relatively unimportant matters as they see fit. This allows, for example, a thinly-populated state like Nebraska to have a unicameral legislature, or a state originally settled by the French, like Louisiana, to base its legal system on Napoleonic Code rather than English Common Law. In neither case are individual rights being violated.That said, the existence of separate state governments has historically had the undeniable side-benefit of sometimes causing our country to be less-than-uniformly tyrannical, as when the "free states" existed during the time of slavery (which our Constitution permitted until it was corrected by amendment). At least there was somewhere to run, within the United States, back then.
That said, this accidental protection from mistaken and wrong federal law is quickly eroding, as an interesting article in The Atlantic makes clear. Here's an example, of how the feds ramrod economy-strangling environmental regulations down the throats of states that don't want them:
Money isn't the only lever the feds use to increase their influence over state governments. Formally, the federal government can't require states to implement federal regulations. But environmental regulations show how easy it is to get around that constraint. The Clean Air Act allows the states to issue federal permits--but only under federally approved state implementation plans, or SIPs. Those plans must meet a dizzying number of conditions; otherwise, the EPA trumps with a federal implementation plan, or FIP.The article includes a brief historical survey of the legislative and legal history behind this trend and concludes with this warning:
When EPA comes in with its FIP, it often comes to "crucify" local industries, as former EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz boasted at a closed-door meeting early in the Obama administration. The crucifixion takes the form of costly added requirements and endless delays. The federal government basically says to uncooperative states, "Implement our regulations for us, or we'll do it ourselves, and your constituents will be sorry." Predictably, constituents pressure state officials to protect them from the dire prospect of EPA implementing its own regulations, as we saw when Texas at first resisted implementing EPA's new greenhouse gas regulations.
The mounting federal takeover of the states started slowly during the New Deal and has intensified substantially, especially in recent years. That inexorable trend is leading to unsustainable levels of government spending and a regulatory regime that grows more intrusive and oppressive by the day. One solution is paramount: Strengthen the vital but oft-neglected separation of federal and state governments.I agree with the prognosis, but not the diagnosis or the proposed cure. The problem isn't that the states are less sovereign than they ought to be, but that individuals are having their rights violated rather than protected by improper government. Simply making the individual states more idependent will not really solve this more fundmental problem. Fifty tyrannies that plunder their citizens and order them around is no more desirable than one. Merely fighting fighting for greater state-level independence distracts from the real fight for freedom, which entails all levels of government protecting individual rights, rather than violating them.