- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2010


We’re seeing a re-emergence of constitutional principles and federalism across the country. It’s a major issue in the health care reform debate, as Tea Party activists and others have refocused attention on the long-dormant principle concerning the individual mandates to purchase insurance and excessive spending by the federal government.

The idea that powers not explicitly delegated in the federal Constitution “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” as stated in the 10th Amendment, is a powerful one. Given the overreach of Washington and public disgust with politicians’ disregard for the people’s will, a healthy dose of state sovereignty and a reaffirmation of federalism is a good thing.

The concept of the 10th Amendment is also at the center of debate over Arizona’s new immigration law. Portions of that law that allowed the state to require individuals stopped by police to show paperwork proving their citizenship were declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. The problem stems from a crime wave associated with Mexican drug gangs and illegal immigrants, as well as the inability of the federal government to police the border. Arizonans who support the act have been labeled racists; a sheriff in the state reportedly has had a million-dollar bounty placed on his head by a drug cartel, and pop star Lady Gaga has urged screaming fans to resist the law.

Missourians also asserted their support of constitutional limits on federal power last week by saying “no thanks” to federal mandates to purchase health insurance. They passed Proposition C by a 3-1 margin, winning 71 percent of all votes cast (including those of close to 40,000 registered Democrats), stipulating that the state will “protect the individual’s right to make health care decisions.” Oklahoma and Arizona have similar measures on their ballots this fall.

While voting for Proposition C may be largely symbolic, as most courts consistently have ruled that federal law trumps state law, the Missouri vote is a real sign of frustration at an increasingly burdensome federal government imposing its will on the people. Twenty-three states have joined a lawsuit against the health care reform law, and there is mounting concern about its affordability as well as the individual mandates.

Some claim demanding that the federal government follow the 10th Amendment at a time when Barack Obama is the nation’s first mixed-race president is a sign of racism. They ask where the Tea Party was during the presidency of George W. Bush. He also burdened the country with debt. Why weren’t Republicans concerned about the 10th Amendment when they controlled Congress?

Good questions all. There should have been 10th Amendment protests under Mr. Bush. It’s also true that for a century or more, a gaggle of slaveholders, secessionists and segregationists tried to use the Constitution to justify something nefarious, racist and malicious.

But this re-emergence is not about race; it’s about our Constitution. People of all races, ethnicities, religions and creeds are concerned about the direction of the republic. Missouri’s and Arizona’s reassertions of the idea of state sovereignty and of federalist principles may be a sign of a new and long overdue American revolution.

Gregory L. Schneider is a Kansas Policy Institute senior fellow.

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