Hey! Feds! Get off of my cloud!
All over the country, legislatures have been passing resolutions that affirm their state’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. Since the beginning of 2009, such resolutions have been introduced in more than 35 states. Nearly half of those introduced go on to pass the legislature. Given this recent trend, it appears the United States is enjoying a rebirth of federalism that could define the future of inter-governmental relations.
What is a state sovereignty resolution, you ask? The typical state sovereignty resolution begins by a recitation of the 10th Amendment—the idea being that members of Congress must have forgotten it. Then, the resolutions go on to declare that the Federal government has overstepped its boundaries and should immediately cease and desist any action that is not explicitly delegated to them by the Constitution. The resolutions also call for an end to all federal mandates that are tied to funding.
These resolutions do not carry the force of law, but rather are used to convey the sense of the legislature. Following passage, copies are sent to the president, vice president, all congressional leaders and the governors and legislatures of every state, all of whom, no doubt, diligently read them, change their behavior and respond with letters of gratification for the legislatures’ initiative.
Despite being a boon to the U.S. Postal Service, these resolutions should be considered the first step in the process of states asserting their right to govern themselves. Over the past century, the federal government has found a way to insert its grubby fingers into state policy at every available opportunity. From No Child Left Behind to REAL ID (the nationalization of driver’s licenses) to mandates that determine the age at which one can legally drink and the speed at which one can drive on a state’s road, the federal government seems to be under the impression that their constitutional mandate extends to every conceivable action in the course of a human’s life.
One might say that the interstate commerce clause is justification for all federal intervention. Interpretation of the interstate commerce clause, however, has descended into the realm of the ridiculous. Take, for instance, the story of Roscoe Filburn, a farmer who grew wheat for his own farm and for sale to locals for home use. Filburn was fined for growing more than his quota of wheat under a federal law dictating the amount of wheat an individual could produce. In 1942, the Supreme Court ruled in Wickard v. Filburn that Congress was justified in its regulation because Filburn’s wheat could have been sold on the open market and thereby potentially depress the price of wheat.
Such interpretations of the federal government’s authority could not possibly have been anticipated by the Framers of the Constitution. It seems that nearly 70 years after Filburn, some states have finally had enough of federal meddling in areas that are clearly in a state’s jurisdiction. As the authors of state sovereignty resolutions convene to plot their next move, it is unclear what the future of the sovereignty movement will be. Could several states band together, nullify a federal law and spark a Supreme Court case that could define our modern understanding of the federalist relationship? Given the fervor of state sovereignty supporters, the possibility is very real.
Phil is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].