Welcome to the thunderdome: state’s rights

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Alright, so I’m going to strangle the next person who talks about states’ rights. I’m sick of it. Small-government advocates, anti-federalist anarchists, libertarians and scallywags of all shapes and sizes, watch out. I’m officially on the lookout for your favorite phrase.

That two-word expletive has been used in opposition towards the abolitionist movement, desegregation, civil rights, gun control and now gay rights. It’s absurd.

I understand the tenth amendment. I do. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” it reads in the Bill of Rights.

The problem, though, is that we don’t really interpret it like that. Noted Supreme Court Justice, textualist and massive child Antonin Scalia is known for interpreting the tenth amendment to mean that the states’ power, in many ways, exceeds the power of the federal government to regulate certain things (unless it protects a certain group or is in support of a liberal cause–then Scalia seems to find no use for it).

I can buy some of that argument. I personally think that it weakens the nation to move towards a loose confederation of fifty independent states, but I recognize that we’re a very broad country with a lot of different interests and desires, so a little bit of variance is okay.

The problem is that the argument is not really about that. It’s about trying to justify bad decisions in any way possible. If states’ rights got in the way of equality in marriage or race or anything else, the supporters of states’ rights, by and large, would turn pretty quickly against that argument. It’s pretty hypocritical.

If the right thing to do is let everyone marry, regardless of sexual orientation, then states’ rights shouldn’t matter. If the right thing to do is not have such loose gun control laws, then states’ rights shouldn’t matter. States’ rights do not matter if they impede the just actions of government.

Let’s look at the recent history of the phrase. The term “states’ rights” was used most famously as a code word against desegregation. Former presidential candidate and governor of Alabama George Wallace famously said “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” and later tried to justify it by saying he was talking about states’ rights. Bull. It’s because he was pandering to the worst parts of our society, and he knew it.

Or take Lee Atwater, the chairman of the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and chairman of the Republican National Committee. When asked in 1981 how he was going to help Reagan win the south, he replied, “You start out in 1954 by saying [the n-word]. By 1968, you can’t say [that]…so you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.”

This is straight code language. It has no place anymore. If you don’t want to let gays marry because of animus towards them, then say it. If you feel that it’s really a threat to the children, then say that. If you think it’s going to degrade traditional marriage, then say that.

You will be proven wrong on all three of those points though, and I think you know it. So you turn to the old states’ rights argument and hope you can beat the march of freedom on a technicality. You won’t. But hey, lawyers are expensive and we’re still recovering economically, so thanks for that, at least.

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