Joe Boyles Guest Columnist
There is a huge debate raging just below the surface in our country, and it is as old as the nation itself. The issue is “federalism.” Are we a nation of 50 individual, unique states or are we a national melting pot where state (and local) laws are routinely trumped by the federal government?
When the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they met because the Articles of Confederation that had been in effect since the Declaration of Independence created 13 state fiefdoms where all laws where subservient to each state law. Imagine driving up the Valdosta Highway and stopping for a toll booth and customs inspection at the Withlacoochee River. The fledgling United States was ungovernable.
So they created a Constitution to unite the country, but at the same time, they had to respect the rights of the individual states. The key phrase was adopted two years later with the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment reads as such: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
This is the basis of “states rights.” Despite the negative connotation given this term during previous periods of racial strife, states rights are an important concept guaranteed by the Constitution. It means that we are a collection of 50 states, each different, and state laws do matter in areas where federal jurisdiction is limited.
Unfortunately for three quarters of a century since the days of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government has encroached severely into the rights of the states. From their lofty perch on Capitol Hill, politicians refuse to recognize that Wyoming is not New York. During the Carter Administration, Congress decided that the national speed limit was 55 mph. I’ve driven on the New Jersey Turnpike where 55 is too fast. Can you imagine driving across the expanse of West Texas at a plodding 55? Dumber than dirt.
One of the actions which diminished the power of the states was the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This was the 1913 amendment that changed the election of senators from the legislature to popular vote. In the original constitutional deliberations, it was decided that the senior half of the bicameral legislature, the Senate, would represent the states. Accordingly, each state legislature would select two senators to represent the interests of the state. Today, we have senators who are above their state’s interests and take a national perspective. In my view, this has severely damaged federalism.
Today, we are seeing the states, predominantly those from the South and West, push back. Twenty-six states, led by Florida, have challenged the constitutionality of last year’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Although the challenge will be decided by the Supreme Court, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the state’s challenge.
Led by Arizona, many states are now pushing the federal government on immigration control.
Why should cash-strapped state governments be forced to pick up the tab for the social welfare (education, health care, worker’s compensation, etc.) of illegal immigrants when the federal government is failing to control our southern border?
Beltway insiders, who have no respect for the Constitution and specifically the 10th amendment, trample routinely on the rights of individual states in the name of big government. Recall when then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacted to the reporter’s question concerning the constitutionality of Obamacare with this dismissive response: “You’re joking, right?” This is hubris.
States are returning federal funds to Washington because too many strings are attached. Here in Florida, our new governor rejected the I-4 high-speed rail project and returned a couple hundred million DOT dollars to Washington. Kansas and Oklahoma have returned major healthcare grants to HHS designed to set up insurance exchanges.
The states are reacting to overreach by the federal government. We are a great nation when the individuality of each state is recognized and respected. Too many swaggering politicians that we’ve sent to Washington have turned their back on federalism. It is time we grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and set them straight. For one, I’d like to see repeal of the 17th Amendment and return the selection of senators to the way Mr. Madison and his cohorts intended.