Walter Rhett

States Rights: Treason or Sovereignty

In Perlo on April 29, 2010 at 1:32 am

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States rights is the rally cry raised by 19 states currently suing the federal government. The states are suing over new federal provisions that mandate citizens to purchase health care insurance with proscribed minimum benefits, chosen from plans offered by private companies. The mandate egregiously violates the rights of citizens of their states, the 19 claim. The federal mandate infringes on individual liberties, grabs power, takes a step toward socialism, and tramples on the Constitution’s guarantees.

This tension between individual rights and government actions finds a philosophical and practical home in the Tea Party movement. More engaged currently in mass rallies and sloganeering than in developing detailed policies on issues of their concern, the Tea Party mantra is the Constitution, which they see as limiting government. The Tea Party plans to work to elect members who support their views of government and the Constitution.

States rights is a chimera that has been an emotional see-saw. Historically, states rights has been a disguise for bankrupt moral and political positions (for instance, the fight over slavery), a cover for large corporations acting to protect their economic turf, and legal cover for a variety of deep political divisions. The later is in play now.
Even the New York Times has noted the many faces of its new rise: . . . state declarations of their rights . . . are on a roll.


  • Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, signed a bill declaring that the federal regulation of firearms is invalid if a weapon is made and used in South Dakota.
  • Wyoming’s governor, Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, signed a similar bill.
  • Oklahoma’s House of Representatives approved a resolution for a vote on a state constitutional amendment allowing its citizens to opt out of federal health care reform. Louisiana is considering similar legislation.
  • Utah lawmakers declared health care reform could not carried out in Utah without legislative approval and declared state authority to take federal lands under eminent domain. A resolution asserted the “inviolable sovereignty of the State of Utah under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Utah also passed a bill that declared federal law enforcement authority, even on federal lands, can be limited by the state.
  • Alabama, Tennessee and Washington are considering bills or constitutional amendments that would assert local police powers to be supreme over federal authority.

Other examples: In Minnesota, the first state to send volunteers to defend the Union in 1861, 3 officials have introduced legislation requiring a two-thirds approval before any federal law can be implemented in the state.

Abortion rights are also being abridged and amended in a number of states, in the face of countervailing federal authority.

States are arguing that this uprising is really a return. The states are arguing the old, reasonable legal saw, mutatis mutandis. Simply put, they insist that, by a strict reading of the Constitution’s 10th amendment, they are only “changing those things which need to be changed (mutatis mutandis).”
 Here’s the chimera, expressed in a NYT comment by a reader from Frankfort, KY, agreed with by over 800 readers: “If these wise state politicians are serious about federal intrusions into their affairs, they should insist that federal interstate highways be ripped up, that federal dams providing electricity and water be destroyed, that all federal military bases be removed, that all earmarked funds be refunded, that all medicaid funds be rejected, that all agricultural subsidies be ended. We need some modicum of intellectual honesty and ideological purity in these matters.”
 Or as another reader put it: “Increasingly more people agitate for freedom without any concept of responsibility. Freedom without responsibility, without the ability to consider and envision consequences of actions and thoughts, without the education to make informed decisions results in anarchy. I have yet to read or hear today’s conservatives (reactionaries really, not conservatives by any means) address the responsibilities and consequences of freedom and choice.”
 States rights advocates, elected and popular, ignore the very clear language of Article Six of the US Constitution. Article Six clarifies and defines the relationship of state and federal statures and requires an oath of loyalty to the federal government. Quoting from the Constitution: 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 Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
 Based on the Constitution they so frequently cite, the legislative dissent of many states rights officials is edging perilously close to treason.
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This is not a grandstand charge, but put forth thoughtfully, with careful considerations of the Virgina resolution and SC’s John C. Calhoun’s US Senate speeches, among other arguments made in our nation’s history. Nor is it made with harsh words, acrimony, or slogans; or without cited examples and evidence.

For all those fearful, angry, or threatened, filled with the passion about the powers of the federal government and its projected perils, the ancient words of the I Ching, an important book of wisdom that models every condition and situation of human behavior, has this to say:
Even a single passion still lurking in the heart has power to obscure reason. Passion and reason cannot exist side by side — therefore fight without quarter is necessary if the good is to prevail.

In a resolute struggle of the good against evil, there are, however, definite rules that must not be disregarded, if it is to succeed. First, resolution must be based on a union of strength and friendliness. Second, a compromise with evil is not possible; evil must under all circumstances be openly discredited. Nor must our own passions and shortcomings be glossed over. Third, the struggle must not be carried on by force. If evil is branded, it thinks of weapons, and if we do it the favor of fighting against it blow for blow, we lose in the end because thus we ourselves get entangled in hatred and passion. Therefore it is important to begin at home, to be on guard in our own persons against the faults we have branded. In this way, finding no opponent, the sharp edges of the weapons of evil become dulled. For the same reasons we should not combat our own faults directly. As long as we wrestle with them, they continue victorious. Finally, the best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.

Thanks for reading! /wr. Stir the Perlo, leave a comment.
(Photos: US Constitution, Constitutional Hall, Utah Legislative Hall; fair use.)

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