My State Representative, Susan Lynn, has recently become a prominent figure in a movement for to “restore state sovereignty,” as described on the Tennessean’s website:
Last fall, Lynn chaired a joint Senate and House committee that sent a letter to lawmakers in the other 49 states urging them to support state sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.The invocation of the so-called states’ rights amendment led critics to say that she was trying to reopen the political battles of the 19th century, when Southern political leaders argued that states’ rights protected slavery. The argument eventually led to the concept of nullification — the idea that states could declare federal laws unenforceable within their borders.Lynn said she has not called for nullification, but she said the thinking behind nullification had merit. She said Northern states frequently resisted enforcement of federal laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal to help slaves escape to free states.
Lynn is not alone in the legislature in expressing support for states’ rights positions. A 10th Amendment resolution she sponsored last year passed the House on an 85-2 vote and the Senate unanimously.
These days, Lynn frequently finds herself one of several lawmakers sponsoring bills dealing with state sovereignty.
Earlier this month, she began to push for passing the Health Care Freedom Act, a bill that would have challenged the health insurance mandate. But before a hearing was held on that measure, the Senate passed the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a similar measure sponsored by Beavers.
Lynn is now pushing for an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would declare a health insurance mandate illegal in Tennessee. For her, the mandate is simply another example of the federal government overreaching.
“They want to pass state laws that are really in the purview of the states,” she said. “And I just think, if they want to be state legislators, they ought to run for the state legislature.”
Now let me say that I am fully in favor of restoring some balance to our Federalist system and putting some meaning back into the Tenth Amendment. However, I want the methods for accomplishing this to be the most effective, and I have doubts that any rhetoric that invokes “states’ rights” is going to be able to escape the baggage of history. It is too easy for the proponents of Statism in the media to summon up images of either the Civil War or the Civil Rights era. Also, there is nearly two centuries of precedent for Federal Supremacy that has increasingly been interpreted to narrow state powers. Not that this is a bad thing: Federal Supremacy is a necessary and important principle, that preserves the Union. But the trend has been toward centralization under Federal power, for a long time, under administrations of both parties. Fighting that in the courts, as appears to be part of Lynn’s strategy, seems a losing proposition.
So how do we convince the big moderate middle that we are not evil conservatives bent on restoring Jim Crow laws? How do win the rhetorical battle? Some things we might emphasize:
- The States as “laboratories”: Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that the individual states could serve as laboratories to try out novel policies without risk to the rest of the country. Americans love innovation. Conservatives should emphasize that devolving responsibilities back to the states would allow more diversity and innovation in policy.
- In a Big Country: There is no reason why a nation as large and diverse as the US should do things the same all over. Massachusetts is not Georgia and is not Colorado, or Minnesota, either. Each state has its own character, and should be free to order its own polity.
- The Zeitgeist: Centralization into large bureaucratic institutions was the norm for the 20th Century, but the new paradigm is for smaller firms and individuals networked together through technology. In an age of public debt and budget constraints, governments as well as businesses need to learn to get away from cumbersome bureaucracy and learn to be more flexible and responsive.
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