Republican Assaults on States' Rights

Facing South and Southern Exposure contributor Sean Reilly has an excellent piece in the Mobile Register about how Republicans are more and more disregarding their own rhetoric about states' rights. They're happy to empower the states when their opponents control the national government, but when conservatives hold all three branches in Washington, suddenly it doesn't matter what individual states might or might not want. This goes for Democrats as well; states' rights, like, say, the filibuster, have been traditionally considered obstacles to progressive change, largely because the Democrats were the national majority party for much of the twentieth century.

That's not to say that there aren't genuine disagreements about protecting against majoritarian tyranny or sorting out local versus central control; but it is important to notice, especially when considering Southern history and politics (or rather, Southern ideas about history and politics) how often a phrase like "states' rights" is used to to conceal what's really at stake.

Here's how Sean's article starts:

President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are all in favor of states' rights.

Except when it comes to deciding where liquefied natural gas terminals should go.

Or letting Florida courts decide the fate of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo.

Or setting driver's license standards.

In each of those cases this year, the White House and Republican legislators-including most members of Alabama's delegation-have acted to tighten the grip of the federal government, not loosen it. Although they justified that course each time on the basis of specific circumstances, some analysts see a widening disconnect with the GOP's traditional belief in restraints on Washington's authority.

"I think many people would have expected some relief once Republicans controlled all three branches of government, but that hasn't happened," said Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. "If there is an important policy objective that they really care about, states' rights just doesn't deter them."