Thursday, June 10, 2010
MS joins list of states fighting medical program
Gov. Haley Barbour has added Mississippi to a list of states fighting the federal government’s new medical program.
“The Health Care Law passed earlier this year is an unprecedented expansion of federal power,” Gov. Barbour said. “The Constitution does not give Congress or the federal government the authority to force every American to purchase health insurance.”
Many political commentators have scoffed at this effort by the states to battle the federal government. They say the governors are tilting at windmills and wasting money on a frivolous lawsuit.
The struggle between the states and the federal government is anything but frivolous. In fact, this has been one of the central battles throughout the history of the United States.
Almost all of the developed nations of the world have strong central governments. The United States is remarkably unique in having independent states which wield considerable powers independently of the central government.
For instance, the majority of criminal and civil law is governed by the states and can vary immensely from state to state. That’s one reason lawyers have to pass the bar in each state in which they desire to practice. Each state has very different laws.
This is in stark contrast to France, for example, where the provinces are adjuncts of the national government. In France, the police are employed by the national government. In the U.S. the police are employed by the city governments, which are sub-units of the state.
The U.S. Constitution governs the division of powers between the states and the federal government. Unfortunately, there is debate about the wording of the Constitution.
Those who advocate states’ rights point to Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution which is titled “Enumerated Powers.”
This section lists about 20 powers of the federal government.
To hammer home this point, the 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or the people.”
States’ righters have a simple argument. The Constitution lists the powers of the federal government and medical insurance isn’t one of them. Everything else belongs to the state.
Not so fast, say those favoring a strong central government. There are other clauses of the Constitution that offset the “enumerated rights” concept.
For instance, the commerce clause gives the federal government the power to “regulate commerce.” The general welfare clause states that “Congress has the power to provide for the general welfare of the United States.”
“General welfare” and “commerce” are pretty broad concepts. Liberal judges have used those vague terms to basically give the federal government unlimited power over the states.
Adding to the federal power is the supremacy clause of the Constitution which states that the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land” and “every State shall be bound thereby. . .”
So which is it? The strict enumerated powers of the federal government with everything else left to the states?
Or is it the broad power for the federal government to promote the general welfare in supremacy to the states?
We’ve been arguing about this since the start of the country. Too bad our Founding Fathers couldn’t have been a little bit clearer. That’s the problem with broad terms, they are easily construed to fit the desires of one group or the other.
President Clinton expressed this concept best during his testimony before a grand jury involving the Lewinsky affair. When asked about whether Clinton had lied previously about the affair, Clinton responded that, “It depends on your definition of “is.”
And so there we have it. Some people have one definition of “is” and others have another.
In truth, the states have some pretty strong legal on their side, otherwise the federal government wouldn’t resort to the questionable tactic of withholding federal grants until the states “willingly” conform.
A perfect example of this was the 55-mile-per-hour federal speed limit law. Setting speed limits is not one of the enumerated powers of the federal government and many states refused to comply until the feds refused to send any highway construction money until the states cooperated. This technique strikes me as a slimy backdoor attempt to circumvent the Constitution, yet it has been used for everything from marijuana laws to the federally mandated size of our toilet bowls.
This battle was the essence of the Civil War. The states didn’t like being told what to do by the feds and opted out.
The Unionists said there was no checking out of Hotel California. Millions of men spilled their blood. This is not a trivial pursuit.
No doubt if you are African-American, the Civil War was about slavery. Arguments over federal versus state power seem irrelevant if you have no personal freedom. But history is more complex than that. Slavery was one of the bigger issues in the overall issue of who held the power, the feds or the states. This misunderstanding still vexes us today.
Who can best run the country - independent states or a strong central government? The debate rages on.
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