Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Believe in States' Rights, But Only When the States are Right

Many people concerned with liberty often cite the concept of States' Rights.  States' Rights essentially refers to the constitutional fact that all the powers of government that were not specifically delegated to the federal government, and that were not specifically prohibited by the Constitution, were reserved for the States, or the people, to exercise.  This fact is embodied in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.  A cursory glance at the current situation in the United States will reveal numerous violations of the Tenth Amendment.  Anything that the federal government does that is not specifically outlined in the Constitution violates the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.  It is not hard to find or think of specific examples so I will not do that here.

So does this mean that an individual state is allowed to pass oppressive laws, subject the people to violence, and take away their rights, simply because it is NOT the federal government?  The answer is a resounding NO!  The thought is not only anti-liberty, but also unconstitutional.

First, I will explain how it is anti-liberty.  The principles of liberty are unalterable, even by the United States Constitution.  In a lot of ways the Constitution got it right (Second Amendment), but it also got it wrong in other ways (taxation).  Because the principles of liberty are natural and eternal, not even a state government, even if that state government were "authorized" by the United States Constitution, has the moral authority to trample upon the freedom of the people, or to interfere with any kind of peaceful interaction.  Oppression is oppression, whether it is done by a federal government or a state government.  The non-aggression principle applies everywhere and all the time, no matter what any government or any constitution may say.

Now I will explain why oppression by state governments is unconstitutional.  I consider the Declaration of Independence to be a founding document and essentially part of the Constitution.  In the Declaration you will find these words, "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends (securing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it".  Therefore, any form of government, whether it be federal or state, should be abolished if the freedom of the people are threatened.  It is also argued by some that the "States" referred to in the Constitution are not the state governments, but the representation of the individual sovereignty of the people that live within that state.  In the book, Political Sovereignty: The Supreme Authority in the United States, Warren L. McFerran says,

"In terms of sovereignty, supremacy, dominion, and mastery, the people are the States, and the States are the people.  The political rights of the people and the rights of the States are synonymous and equivalent concepts.  State sovereignty and States' Rights, therefore, are concepts equal in meaning to the sovereignty of the people and the political rights of the American people." (pp. 87-8)
I agree with McFerran's argument.  To believe otherwise is to believe that, according to the Constitution, oppression and infringing on individual rights is legal as long as it is done by a state and not by the federal government.  Obviously that is absurd.  Now I want to be clear that, all things being equal, I believe in States' Rights and I believe in local control.  I also believe in those things when a state or local government opposes aggression by any "parent" jurisdiction.  Complete non-intervention by the government is ideal but if a government is going to involve itself in things it should not, it might as well be as close to the people as possible.  When government officials and agents are in close proximity to the people they are supposed to represent and serve, there is more accountability and more effective push back against oppressive laws.

In conclusion, states created the federal government and delegated only certain powers to it and retained all other powers.  But states are still governments that are never justified in violating the rights of individuals.  That is why I believe in States' Rights only when the states are right.

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