Sunday, June 7, 2009

State rights and the Tenth Amendment

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.

These are the words of the tenth amendment of the constitution of the United States. The U.S. constitution, which happens to be the shortest in history, was penned with the intent of limiting the powers of the federal government and preserving the individual liberties of the people. However, over the course of the last 222 years, the federal government has taken an ever increasing role in the lives of American citizens, far beyond what was intended by the framers of the constitution. Through perverse "interpretations", the powers that be have twisted the republic our forefathers envisioned into an all encompassing power leaning ever closer to despotism.

Our founding fathers sought to create a system of government that protected the liberty of individuals. Article one, section eight of the constitution, specifically deals with the powers granted to congress. They are, as our forefathers put it, "few and defined". The powers granted to congress deal with national issues which include: currency, the military, to lay and collect taxes. So how is it that Congress is passing legislation that deals with our personal lives, what we can or cannot put into our bodies, how we run our businesses, or who we can or cannot marry? These are personal, not national, issues. The question we must ask ourselves is how is Congress getting away with this?

Through the misinterpreted Interstate “Commerce Clause” and to a lesser extent the General Welfare Clause, Congress has forced their way into nearly every aspect of our lives. In Article one, section eight, the first line states "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States... “If you were to read on, the third line states "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Congress, in tandem with the Supreme Court, has used these two lines to overextend the power granted to them by the Constitution.

Overreaching and overspending are not a recent phenomenon. Even our founders struggled with the dilemma of spending to improve the nation while staying within the confines of the Constitution. Both Jefferson and Madison entertained the idea of building roads through federal sponsorship. However, being strict constructionists, they knew this authority was not delegated to the federal government and an amendment would have to be enacted in order to proceed. In 1817, Madison himself was presented with the Bonus Bill, a bill which would have allocated money to the Federal government for the construction of roads and canals. He vetoed it. Despite the fact that he was in support of the bill's goals on a personal level, he could not allow such a deviation from the original intent of both the Interstate Commerce clause and the General Welfare Clause to be permitted.
In his response to the bill he wrote, “ ‘The power to regulate commerce among the several States’ cannot include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress...To refer the power in question to the clause ‘to provide for common defense and general welfare’ would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms ‘common defense and general welfare’ embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust..."

Essentially what Madison is saying here is that the terms “Interstate Commerce” and “General Welfare” are only used to explain why Congress was delegated the powers enumerated by the constitution and are not to be interpreted as separate powers in addition to the aforementioned, and to do so would grant Congress unlimited powers well beyond what the framers intended.

Now it is not only common place, but the accepted norm, that it is the authority of Congress and position of government to oversee every aspect of life in the name of "general welfare". In the federalist papers James Madison writes "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State." Could the intent of our founders be any clearer?
While the ill conceived programs such as Social Security, Medi-care, bailouts, and educational funding may be well meaning, they are illegal. None of these fall under the powers delegated to Congress and no amendments have been made to grant this authority. Federal laws on gun licensing, substance control and industry regulation are illegal as well. These are matters which were meant to be left to the states. When it comes to reining in this overreaching, there have been few, if any, times that the Supreme Court has not sided with Congress. This puts the American public at great risk, as it is the Supreme Court’s role to interpret our Constitution. If we cannot count on them to adhere to the vision our Founding Fathers had, who can we turn to?

Finally states have had enough of this Illegal government interference. To date, thirty-five states have declared their sovereignty. While this is a great start, it is not nearly enough. States need to begin refusing federal aid for matters that are the states' or individual's responsibilities. Recently, South Carolina’s Governor, Mark Sanford, refused $700 million in stimulus money. A federal judge has ordered him to take the money stating that "He (the Governor) did not have the authority to refuse." This is because he stood alone in his fight to shake off the yoke of federal funding, but if every state stood in solidarity, refusing federal funds, and by extension federal intrusion, it would send a clear and undeniable message of enough is enough. This is the only way to put credibility behind the states’ declarations of sovereignty. Granted it's not easy to refuse free money, but it's not really free is it? It was exchanged for state and individual freedoms. After all, what is Liberty if it is not the right to choose?

Two Great books we would suggest if you are more intersted on this topic.

Thomas Woods JR - Who Killed the Constitution?: The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush

Tom Mullen - A Return to Common Sense

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