States’ Rights and the Obama Administration

The Justice Department has announced that it will not pursue prosecutions against the users of medical-marijuana if they are acting in accordance with state law.  This is a fundamental triumph for states’ rights, and refreshing to see it coming from the Obama administration.

The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution states: “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. ”

There has been an historic struggle between state sovereignty and a federal government intent on amassing ever-broader power. Occasionally states have refused to adhere to laws passed by the federal government which they felt were outside the scope of federal authority but because there have been so many intrusions on states rights, we’ve become in many ways immune to them.

Here’s one example, from Hans Bader at Open Market:

The Supreme Court ruled in Wickard v. Filburn (1942) that even home gardens (in that case, a farmer’s growing wheat for his own consumption) are subject to federal laws that regulate interstate commerce. Economists and scholars have criticized this decision, but it continues to be cited and followed in Supreme Court rulings, such as those applying federal anti-drug laws to consumption of even home-grown medical marijuana. Indeed, many court decisions allow Congress to define as “interstate commerce” even non-commercial conduct that doesn’t cross state lines…

Unprecedented recent threats to states’ rights have many governors and state legislators finally willing to stand up and oppose this federal intrusion. In the State of Montana, a law was recently passed which declared sovereignty for the regulation of firearms made and used within that state. A number of other states are considering similar laws.

This is certainly not a partisan issue. The RealID Act of 2005 has never been implemented and probably never will, as nearly half the states have nullified it with their own legislation, thus forcing the federal government to repeatedly extend the deadline for compliance.

Quite a few states, preparing for what they feel is an inevitable federal health care program that nobody wants (not even the Congressmen supporting it, as they’ve included exemptions for themselves), have begun considering legislation that would nullify the plan within their own borders.

Arizona will have a proposal on the ballot in 2010 which would override any law requiring participation in a particular health care system, prohibit fines or penalties for those choosing to purchase health care directly, and would disallow federal prohibition of the sale of private insurance in the state. Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wyoming are all considering similar initiatives.

Let’s hope this administration is as supportive of states’ rights when the issue being championed is more about economic freedom than about getting high.

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