States’ Rights

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

Liberals have attacked Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for making a “states’ rights” argument on health-care reform. (Actually, in the conference call that sparked the attacks, he did not even use the term.  See the transcript.) Apparently, any allusion to “states’ rights” — or even an invocation of federalism — is a throwback to the Dixiecrats or even the Confederates.

Before making such accusations, liberal Democrats should consider who is explicitly talking about states’ rights:

“Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it’s discriminatory, I think it interferes with states’ rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it.” — Pres. Barack Obama, June 17, 2009, signing a memorandum on federal benefits.

“This ill-advised denial turns its back on science, turns its back on fairness, turns its back on states’ rights, and turns its back on precedent.” — Sen. Barbara Boxer, Dec. 19, 2007, opposing EPA’s denial of a regulatory waiver to California.

“Congress will have plenty of time to review his plan before any detainee is moved, and states’ rights are preserved by requiring that he consult with state governors before submitting it.” — Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), supporting legislation to restrict the transfer of Gitmo detainees.

“This legislation has far-reaching implications for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, as well as for states’ rights.” — Rep. Henry Waxman, Dec. 9, 2005, opposing a food-safety bill.

“I have consistently supported states’ rights to determine their own fates on a variety of issues.  This amendment would trample the rights I have worked hard to protect.” — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), July 21, 2009, opposing a federal “concealed-carry” law.

“I must tell you, to me, it is a matter of an unfunded mandate on my State. It is a matter of what federalism is about. It is a matter of States rights, and it is a matter of common decency.” — Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), Feb. 26, 2009, opposing a measure to cede the District of Columbia to Maryland.

“The States’ Rights to Innovate in Health Care Act seeks to provide incentives for the development of state models that might lead to nationwide health-care reform.” — Rep. John Tierney (D., Mass.), Sept. 23, 2005.

There are plenty more where those came from.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. With James Ceaser and Andrew Busch, he is co-author of 
Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.

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