Should US liberals champion states’ rights?

usflag1Back in the 1960s, 1970s and maybe even today to some degree “States’ Rights” used to be a code word. Oh, it sounded noble enough, after all, who could be against states deciding their own affairs. Democracy in action, right? Well, it was, save for the fact that the democratic majority didn’t like the black minority gettin’ all uppity and demanding to vote. So the Republicans, and conservative soon-to-be Republican Democrats came up with the phrase to send a nod and a wink to racist voters. No longer talking about n**gers, they were now in favour of states’ and the federal government minding its own business. As a result, liberals have always been suspicious of the concept of standing up for states’ rights. 

Is it time this changes? I ask this because it would be hard to find a time where the US was more divided than it is now, at least since the civil war. Even in the 1960s, at the height of Vietnam, there were conservatives in the Democratic Party and liberals in the Republicans,a nd more importantly, both parties recognised the need for two wings. Yet now the parties are both mostly hardline, and every election is practically a winner takes all and the other guy can go screw himself. This isn’t good, for the US or the rest of the world. Is there a solution?

There might be. The fact is, the US is more culturally divided than ever, and maybe it is time to recognise that. Maybe its time that certain rights, and control over rights (abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, death penalty, campaign finance) be devolved, by a new constitutional amendment, to the states. Yes, it will mean that in some red states women will lose the right to have abortions. But it’ll also mean that in some states far more strict gun control, or gay marriage will be permitted, and all without liberals and conservatives fearing that the other side will stack  the supreme court with their people, and override those rights. People can just move to the states that reflect their values (something which will, I suspect, hurt the red states far more than they realise, but that their business)

Time for “Liberals for States’ Rights”?  

5 thoughts on “Should US liberals champion states’ rights?

  1. I think liberal and conservative can hash it out better locally and if one side loses then that side can leave to a place where the laws are suited to their taste. At that point we can see who’s policies work best and the losers will be easily observable by the results of their political concepts. They will then change that policy to align itself with the correct policy and at that point the entire nation will have the correct policy. All this can be done without any bloodshed or family feuds and without trampling on the rights of those who wish to live under a different law than someone else.

  2. Derek: Thanks for the kind words. My reasoning about a new constitutional amendment goes on the basis that even if the Supreme Court decides to reinvigorate the tenth amendment, there then becomes a partisan battle as to what issues are covered, with liberals and conservatives afraid that the other sides’ issues will be favoured. If the Congress could decide by, say, a two thirds majority (to ensure bipartisan support) on what specific issues should no longer be in the federal scope, at least the process would be open. I accept the idea of the Congress deciding what “rights” get devolved could be offensive (who are they to decide, you may ask!) but it would seem a more transparent method then allowing a supreme court which is seen as partisan do it. In Ireland, where I live, our “federal” government is the European Union, and that’s governed by very long and specific treaties to stop power seeping to the centre in Brussels. It isn’t always sucessful, but it does make it much harder for the centre to subtly grab power. Although I suspect that British eurosceptics would disagree with that!

  3. Great essay Jason! I live in Arizona and am the state chapter coordinator for the Tenth Amendment Center:

    I don’t think we need a NEW amendment, we just need to insist that our federal government obey the first 10 amendments, especially the 9th and 10th. That’s what our state governments are supposed to do and are trying to do.

    I look forward to the day when 50% of Americans aren’t at the throats of the other 50% every 4 years! Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Should Liberals Champion States’ Rights? | Virginia Tenth Amendment Center

  5. The American tradition established almost 400 years ago assumed people created government, and one that is within a days horseback ride, such as the county, would be more manageable than one located thousands of miles away. So it was, the nation danced to a different ideology than the Old World where individual freedom was more important than the interests of community, as freedom actually helped the community. State’s rights, so obstinately adhered to by 19th century libertarian Democrats served the whole and assumed the wrongs would be righted by people in their own close communities, which, for the most part, they were. See The Changing Face of Democrats on Slavery and punitive tariffs would have gone away in time, except the Hamilton-Clay-Lincoln interventionists needed to use the issue to take government out of the people’s hands and place it in the hands of the few who knew best how to rule, and look where that has got us. It took us closer to a return to Old World governing ideas.

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