Federalism: Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Federalism: Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

2016 | Week of July 11 | #1159

If you aren’t alarmed by the federal government’s bullying of the states, you ought to be. Whether it’s coming from an executive order or a bureaucratic office or a court, recent actions clearly show federalism is well-nigh gone in the United States.

Too many people today are frankly ignorant of federalism. Federalism is the concept our founders incorporated in the framing of our government and in the form and function of the US Constitution.  Ultimately, the goal in federalism is shared power.

Federalism seeks to balance power between the national government and the states. Part of the idea is each rides herd on the other.  Federalism, while not mentioned in the Constitution, is implicit throughout it, with the powers that are expressed or enumerated as belonging to the US Congress carefully delineated in the Constitution. There are 27 of these delineated powers.  Then there are the so-called “implied powers” that the federal government has. These are those generally seen as falling under the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution. The courts have more say as to these powers than the expressed or enumerated powers.

Off-setting these expressed and implied powers of the US Congress and the federal government is the 10th Amendment, which says: “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.”  Interestingly most people who quote this and omit the “or to the people” portion, which I personally believe was probably most important to those who penned “we the people” as the first 3 words of this governing document.

Some would argue Article 5 of the Constitution also limits the power of the national government because it allows for a so-called convention of the states as one way to amend the Constitution.

Federalism is a high-wire tightrope.  After the Articles of Confederation debacle, the framers wanted a stronger central or national government—but not without checks and balances on its power. Since the states had preceded the federal government, the founders were comfortable letting the states be that check.  But holding a strong national or federal government in check is not easy.  And over the 229 years of the Constitution, the federal government has gained more and more power. This situation has become very “in-your-face” over the last eight years.

Forcing every state to have a pretty-much one-size-fits-all health insurance program is one example. The Constitution is silent on health care and on insurance. That should be left entirely to the states. The Constitution is silent on education, but the federal government is pushing its way more and more into states and local school districts. You might recall the letter that was sent to every public school district earlier this spring, threatening them with pulled federal funding if they don’t give special rights, privileges and protections to transgendered students.

Of course, last year, the US Supreme Court said states don’t have the right to protect marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, even though the constitution is totally silent on marriage.

Another example just happened with a court case regarding abortion. Of course, Roe v. Wade is a classic example of the federal courts usurping the right of the states to make laws regarding life and abortion.  However, late last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that Texas, and by default, virtually every other state, has no right to make laws that protect women seeking an abortion. The law the high court struck down required abortionists to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is being performed.  Wisconsin, just a couple of years ago, passed a very similar law, which will likely be unenforceable in light of this decision. The court said that power no longer resides with the states, although the Constitution does not give this power expressly to Congress.  The Court is once again making law based on its own interpretation of the US Constitution.

Other examples abound of the federal government usurping the rights of the states and the people. We the people must bear more than a little responsibility for this situation. We are the ones who vote for those who represent us at all levels of government.  That means we the people are the ones who can and should demand change. But first we must understand our government and be involved with it. Regarding federalism, ignorance of our government isn’t bliss; it’s downright dangerous.

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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