Monday, October 8, 2012

A War Over States’ Rights


In the first presidential debate of the season, Mitt Romney the republican candidate attacked President Obama on many issues, but none so more than the Affordable Care Act; he referred negatively to as Obamacare. Romney continued to echo the republican view on states’ rights when he sighted that in Massachusetts, his state-wide insurance plan worked, but wasn't right for America. Over and over, Romney continued to poke the viewers with this republican ideal about states’ rights, but just where did this come from? Where exactly does it say that States’ have rights over the federal government? Romney continued the attack and even referenced the constitution and declaration of independence, although incorrectly as I will explain.

So just where did this view on states’ rights come from?


Well if you believe the republicans, our constitution. But since the only two things a republican knows about our constitution is that it grants people the right to hold their bible in one hand and a gun in the other, we know it’s just not so.

So what does the constitution say about states’ rights?

Amendment X:

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.

Now what republicans would like you to believe is that the government of each state is granted the right to make decisions about its state as long as the constitution doesn't specifically say otherwise. And at first glance it does seem to make sense. But then there is article XI, clause two, referred to as the supremacy clause, which reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

This is important because it clearly states that the Federal government and its powers are supreme, and judges in those states shall be bound to the laws of the federal constitution. It states that where contradictions between constitutions, state and federal happen, federal law is supreme.

What does this all mean?

It means that each state has the right to create its own constitution, granting rights to the citizens of its states, however when any such right contradicts federal law, than the state must set aside its laws in favor of the federal law. Now for some people, this sounds terrible. There are people out there who consider themselves an American second only to membership in their state first, as if there existed this commonwealth of independent states.  Although it may seem as if states are independent, and in some respect they may be, they are all part of the same republic. In the federalist papers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, two of the founders of this nation, wrote that the Supremacy clause of the constitution was vital to enforce the powers of the federal government, that ratification of the constitution alone, gave the federal government supremacy over the rights of the states.

So we know that the intention of the founders was to give the federal government authority over states as well as constitutionally overriding power.

So where did this issue of states’ rights come from?

Well it should be no surprise that the idea of states making their own decisions came from the south. In the 1820’s the South was a major exporter of agriculture both foreign and domestic. The south benefited heavily from the agriculture of crops farmed in the south exclusively through slave labor. The north at the time in contrast relied heavily on industry, and the two sides clashed on basic policies. In 1828, Congress passed tariff legislation that heavily benefited the north and punished the south simultaneously. The only thing that continued to allow the south to compete with the northern industrial explosion was its use of free labor, with slavery. Never more was the term of states’ rights brought into the minds of the citizens than on the subject of slavery. In the years leading up to the civil war, many debates were held between the members of northern abolitionists and southern slave owners. Southerners maintained that their economy built on the backs of slaves would crumble to dust if they were to succumb to the public discord in the north calling for the abolishment of slavery. Furthermore, this idea of states’ rights played vital in the ability of slave owners to move product through states that did not support their cause. Northern states, whose public outrage at slavery led citizens to free slaves whenever they encountered them in the north, caused a battle between the abolitionists and slave owners that ended in the 1857 Supreme Court decision affirming the right of slave owners. Ultimately, this decision as well as the electing of President Lincoln and the Republican Party, the tariffs and unsavory opinion of the south are what probably led to the civil war.

Although it was widely held that the Republican Party were not in favor of slavery, Lincoln himself stated that his only intention was to restore that which had been taken illegally, calling the cessation of southern states “legally void.” Lincoln’s primary goal was to restore the Union of states and although the issue of slavery was one that his party did not tolerate, it was secondary to his primary goal. Had Lincoln been able to restore the Union to what it was without abolishing slavery, he would have done so. The confederacy believed that cessation allowed them to form a new independent government, and sent representatives to Washington offering a monetary settlement with the Union that granted the confederacy federal properties they had already taken. Lincoln tossed the men from his office, believing that any negotiation with the confederacy would be a sign of acceptance of a sovereign nation. To show his determination Lincoln ordered troops to guard forts, even against overwhelming odds. This cost the lives of thousands of men.

In 1862, Lincoln discussed at length with his cabinet the possibility of ending slavery in contested states. Lincoln believed that in order to push the idea throughout the Union, he would need to show everyone the force of the Union, in order to make it a completely popular one. He also believed that by doing so he could solidify those on the fence, and force the war into the slave states. On September 17, 1862 President Lincoln would get his chance. The battle of Antietam, a decisive victory for General Lee, allows the president just five days later to announce to his cabinet the content of his proclamation.  On January 1, 1863, by executive order, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation. The executive order granted the freedom of slaves in contested states, but did not grant freedom for all, or an end to slavery.  Nearing the end of the civil war, abolitionists in his party believing that the proclamation was merely a war act, pressured Lincoln to make it something permanent. Lincoln concerned with his own re-election, pushed the idea through the Congress which enacted the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.

Now although slavery had been abolished, equal rights were another thing. After all, the idea that a black man was 3/5 a white man was still very popular, even if they had severed the shackles of slavery. Over the next 100 years, southern states would fight vigorously to oppress black citizens.

In the 1960’s it was well known that “states’ rights” was a term used when referring to segregation. During the period from 1876 to 1965, southern states formerly part of the confederacy adopted a set of policies referred to as the “Jim Crow” laws. These policies were meant to substantiate the mentality flowing through the minds of southerners that blacks were “separate but equal.” These policies allowed the formerly confederate states to create an entirely segregated society which favored the whites of society. With these laws, the legislators were able to create separate schools, transportation, restaurants, restrooms and drinking fountains for whites and for blacks. It also made illegal, the usage of any of these segregated services by someone of the other race. These laws would remain in effect until 1954 in a landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Although it is hard to say for sure where the civil rights movement began, this is by far a pivotal moment for that movement.

In 1890 Louisiana began segregating its railway cars, a move to fall in line with the segregation of other services provided in the southern states. To many this was just another act of torture being perpetrated on the blacks in the south. Railway cars in those days were not air conditioned as they are today, and the accommodations in the blacks-only cars were less than accommodating. Many saw this as a chance to challenge these new laws, and a committee was formed to try and repeal the law. A man by the name of Homer Plessy was asked if he would like to be the one to challenge the law, and he agreed. On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought his first-class ticket and boarded the train. He immediately sat in the whites-only car as instructed by the committee. When Plessy was asked to move to the blacks-only car, he refused, and was arrested.

When Plessy appeared before the judge he argued that his rights under the 13th and 14th amendments of the constitution were violated, asking the judge to dismiss the case. The judge declined, and the found him guilty. Plessy was not done of course, and he and the committee appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court of Louisiana, which upheld the original ruling. With one more shot, Plessy appealed his case to the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, and on April 13, 1896, four years later oral arguments were heard on the case. Plessy’s attorney argued that his client’s rights under the constitution’s 13th and 14th amendments did not allow Louisiana to treat him any differently because of the color of his skin. He offered the notion that such treatment continued to subject blacks to the feeling of being property. On May 18, 1896, the court handed down its 7-1 decision, rejecting Plessy’s arguments and establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine that would continue until Brown v. Board of Education. The only dissenting opinion was that of Justice Harlan, who almost prophetically called the decision infamous, sighting that its court’s decision would create a racial divide that would be felt for a long time to come, and believed that the constitution should be seen as “color-blind.”

With established segregation laws in place throughout the south, things remained “separate but equal” until 1951 when the parents of elementary school children decided to file a class action suit against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas. The parents with the help of the local NAACP, attempted to enroll their children in closest available schools in their district only to be turned away to the segregated schools. On August 3rd, 1951, the district court handed down their decision rejecting the plaintiff’s arguments and citing the original Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 Supreme Court decision.

Although the Supreme Court would hear the arguments first in December of 1952, they were unable to reach a decision and it seemed as if the issue would remain in limbo. In reality, a plan was being hatched by Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter who wanted to delay the case to allow the court to reach a unanimous decision in favor of desegregation. Although, a unanimous decision was not required to rule on the arguments, those who believed the original court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson to be a moral question and ultimately wrong believed that a strong united message of opposition would be needed to stop segregation. With the dissenters finally agreeing to rule in favor, arguments were reheard on December 8, 1953. On May 17th, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and rule in favor of Brown, ending the segregation of public schools.

Although the decision was accepted easily in some states, others like Virginia, and Texas opposed the desegregation by organizing citizen’s campaigns and closing schools rather than allow the integration. In a story that became national news, June 11, 1963, Gov. George Wallace personally blocked the doors at the University of Alabama to prevent the enrollment of two black students and only moved when ordered by a member of the National Guard following the orders of President Kennedy.

Many brave individuals who risked life and limb, like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. are shining examples of individuals who believed their rights were more important as human beings, than the rights of any state.

April 4th 1968, one day after giving his most famous speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. What was surely an attempt to silence the civil rights movement by removing its most prominent figure, turned into another of its most pivotal moments, making the man a martyr for the cause. Riots broke out all throughout the United States, cries for justice and want for the things he saw in his dreams to come true. Only a week after his assassination, Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1968; this effectively ends the practice of segregation in the United States. All challenges prove to fail as all forms of segregation are then declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Since the end of the civil rights movement of the 60's, the term had not been used, until it was reawakened by the Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in 2010. Since the days of Lincoln, the Republican Party has changed quite a bit. The Republican Party that elected presidents Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Theodore Roosevelt, is not the same Republican Party that exists today. The modern Republican Party began its decline into insanity around the time that Ronald Reagan was elected president. That party has since turned into a class of wealthy, white, religious, bigoted individuals who believe their ideologies on government outweigh the common good. They believe that the only laws worth preserving are the ones dictated to them by a holy book full of hatred, and violence. In the last thirty years the redistribution of wealth in this country has resulted in an economy of corrupt wealthy few who capitalize on the need of others, taking advantage of the weak to gain strength, a parasite on the American public. This 1% believes they can control what the other 99% of people can do in this country and it starts with gaining control of our politicians.

Of course, controlling individual politicians in Congress and even the white house is not enough. You see again, individuals perceive themselves to be Americans, but only second to being part of their state, and it is there that war must be waged, and won, in order to control the Union.

Throughout the last thirty years in the modern Republican Party no issue as much as the issue of equality of the LGBT community has been so polarizing. The uncanny treatment of this community echoes the treatment of blacks during the civil rights movement so closely that the opposition of these two could be juxtaposed against each other with little difference. As if the constitution were written on an etch-a-sketch, Republicans would have you believe that civil rights apply to just about anyone, except homosexuals. As if history were merely the memory of another nation’s past, with nothing to look back at as an example of moral judgment, those who enjoy the rights others fought so hard to grant them, with a callous heart, turn against those who demand equality. Nevermore has the utter hypocrisy of the Republican Party been so clearly seen as it has been on this issue.

September 21, 1996, then President Bill Clinton a democrat signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which federally defined marriage between a man and a woman. Since that time, Clinton has changed his view, advocating for same-sex marriages throughout the United States. President Obama has called the Act a violation of the principles of the constitution, and ordered the Department of Justice to not defend any case brought before a court where the law was challenged. Republicans, who have taken on the role of bigot party, have instructed their party’s lawyers to defend the law in place of the Department of Justice. Since 2004, six states now recognize same-sex marriages as legal in their state, but because of the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, their marriages are only legal in the states in which they were married. The Supreme Court of the United States is slated to hear arguments on this Act in cases, as early as next year.

 So what is the problem?

The same Party that has been advocating for States’ rights has been pushing for a federal law making same-sex marriage illegal under the supremacy clause of the constitution. The same clause that grants a federal mandate be treated by each state as law, the same clause for which those who continue to argue States’ rights, I.E. republicans, are supreme. Hypocrisy unfortunately is seemingly part and parcel with that party. It’s not just on issues of same-sex marriage, they continue to push for federal laws banning abortion, an issue of health, at the same time crying foul when the federal government impose healthcare mandates across the nation.

What should be clear is that States are given latitude on issues involving how each state wants to govern itself, and federal mandates are only made on issues that affect everyone equally.

As I mentioned in the beginning Mitt Romney attacked the president and referenced the constitution and declaration of independence, albeit incorrectly.

He said, “The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.” He continued, “First, life, and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people…”

The problem is, he doesn't understand what that statement even means, or he doesn't believe it himself. Calling for States’ rights in the face of a federal document that grants supremacy over state government is tantamount to the confederacy asking Lincoln for sovereignty for the confederate states. There is something else that document mentions, although I’m sure Gov. Romney only memorized the portions he felt he needed. It mentions the principle of a Perfect Union. It mentions by name several times, the United States, not Separatist States, of America.

Life, Liberty?

Words to a man, who believes States’, should have the right to mandate separate laws.

Like the southern States of old republic that believed blacks were 3/5 a man?

Segregated their lives to inferiority based on the color of their skin?

You mean those states?

Do you mean those same states, now asking for states’ rights being able to decide how two people can show love for each other?

Is that what you mean Gov. Romney?

Or was it merely your attempt to slide those issues by, in disguise of the Affordable Care Act, that not only guarantees no citizen can ever be denied medical coverage because they were born with a condition, but grants every child in this country the care they need to survive, and gives support to millions of people who otherwise would not have it. You see Gov. Romney, when you seek to classify states as sovereign entities, merely to reverse the laws in that constitution, that already grant people life and liberty, you offend the lives of every man and woman who defended with their lives, that document, and reduce it to a rag of parchment, covered in the signatures of people whose ideas founded this nation with the blood of patriots. That declaration of independence you referred to was signed by fifty-six men who knew signing it, would be signing their own death warrants. Those men, you so effortlessly and figuratively shat on, by mentioning that document, would rather have died than give up their liberties, the very liberties you seek to take away from people, by granting state sovereignty.




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