In Support Of Federalism

Robert Alt writes in NRO on how the left is equating federalism with the "far right". In so doing, they are undermining the very foundation of the US Constitution.

The Constitution is explicit in its purpose – it is designed to be a check against government power. The Bill of Rights does not state that the people have a right to free speech. It specifically says "Congress shall make no law." It is a document based not granting freedoms through government but acknowledging that there are certain freedoms which are innate and that government has no right to interfere in. The doctrine of federalism is based upon the limitation of federal power. The federal government is restricted by the Constitution from interfering in state affairs.

Between the New Deal and the mid-90’s there had been a steady movement in American jurisprudence towards the concept of increasing federal control. The Commerce Clause was used as a justification for many sweeping civil rights cases such as Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. While it is hard to argue that such cases were wrong, their effects on interstate commerce were tenuous at best.

Federalism argues that such interference should be kept to a minimum. While there may be a pressing national interest in civil rights, that national interest does not allow the federal government to override the states. Landmark cases such as Printz v. United States and United States v. Lopez have limited federal power over the states.

The left wants to argue that such movements will undermine civil rights and reduce federal power. However, there are many arguments that giving the federal government increasing power is unwarranted. The Founders clearly organized the US Constitution to limit federal power, and the way in which the Commerce Clause has been stretched to grant the federal government increasing police powers would be seen as a violation of the intent of the Constitution.

Federalism is not a radical philosophy. It is the founding philosophy of this nation, and the left’s constant attacks on federalism as being analogous to Civil War-era concepts of "states rights" are cheap shots that betray the real meaning of the Constitution. The Founders of this nation deliberately designed a system in which the federal government was limited in its power. This was a move designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority, and while it may stand in the way of liberal social experimentation it is still a safeguard that must be respected.

UPDATE: See my earlier piece on partial-birth abortion and federalism to see more on why federalism and conservatism are anything but one and the same.

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