Last year I wrote about local and states rights here. Although it makes no sense to say the federal government has little or no role in our lives, it is fair to say that Much damage was done to the notion of small government and local control by 14 years of almost constant Republican domination of the Congress. It’s time for those left-of-center to take a new look at federalism.
Liberals often have a reflexive distaste for decentralization of political power: State and local autonomy strike them as provincial and regressive. But much of the association of federalism with conservative politics is the result of historical accident: There is nothing inherently conservative about limitations on the power of Congress and the executive. And now that both of these branches are firmly controlled by conservatives, perhaps liberals will begin to see the merits of meaningful federalism. They won’t need to look far: The president, mounting that favorite hobby horse of conservatives—tort reform—has just proposed federal legislation to limit medical malpractice awards. Even a modicum of respect for the prerogatives of the states should stay Congress’ hand: Tort liability has always been a matter of state law, and the effects of supposedly excessive awards in one state should have few consequences for the quality or cost of medical care in other states.
Now that Democrats have regained functional control of the Congress it may be the time for liberals to take a hard look at how those years of Republican hegemony have turned federal law into a tool for micro-managing public behavior.
… for instance, federal criminal law covering small-scale garden-variety activities such as marijuana cultivation for personal use. In reaction to this nationalization of the law, “Federalists” seek to limit congressional authority to legislate in areas that primarily concern individual states: California’s criminal code can deal with the prevalence of homegrown hash on the streets of San Francisco.
In New Mexico, although medical marijuana use has been decriminalized, a man was arrested, with the help of local law enforcement, by Federal agents. The man was arrested for violating Federal statutes that bar growing and the possession of marijuana under any circumstances.
A house divided against itself will not stand. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have separate bedrooms and lie in the beds we make.
Is it time for those who are left-of-center to take a new look at federalism? I would have to say yes.