Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Returning Power to State Governments

Part One: A Brief History of the States' Rights Movement

This is the first part of a three-part series that I will be doing on returning power to state governments.

What’s the history of the states’ rights movement?
  • There has been conflict ever since the United States was founded back in the eighteenth century about how the federal and state governments should share power and who should be supreme. Two main parties were in play at this time: Federalists, who wanted to give the federal government much more power than the state governments, and anti-Federalists – also known as constructionists – who wanted to make sure that states retained as much power as possible.
  • The court case McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) set a very important precedent for the battle between state and federal rights. In this case, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, decreed that federal laws take precedence over state laws and that if there is a conflict between federal and state laws, that federal laws are the ones that are supreme.
  • Later, as tension between the North and South began building as the Civil War loomed, states’ rights took center stage once again. This time, the South wanted the power to allow slavery and to disregard any federal laws or court rulings that said otherwise. When the South did not get what it wanted, it seceded.
  • During the twentieth century, the term states’ rights was often used by politicians and citizens alike who supported segregation and discrimination based on race. The term “states’ rights” was often used as the euphemism for government-sponsored discrimination. Thus, this term still has a negative connotation in the minds of many Americans today.
  • This is a summary of this article.

How did the federal government gain so much power?

  • The ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland opened the floodgates as the federal government began taking more and more power for itself. As this source says, McCulloch v. Maryland “became the legal cornerstone of subsequent expansions of federal power.”
  • Congress has used both the “elastic” clause and the interstate commerce clause to justify its involvement in issues concerning education, crime, and everything in between.

Tomorrow: Part Two – What does the Constitution Actually Say about State vs. Federal Power?

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