Don't forget the States

Emotion is the death of reason

If you hop in your car and drive west for seven hours, you’ll still be in Nebraska, specifically Crawford, Nebraska.

If you drove the same amount of time in Europe, you could leave Germany, drive through Amsterdam, Brussels, make a quick stop in Luxembourg, and end up in Paris. This is to say, the United States is a very, very large country.

With such an enormous size, it’s not particularly surprising to discover that an individual from southern California is a bit different from a native of Whitefish, Montana. To be quite honest, it’s a testament to the American spirit that the United States is as unified as we are.

Still, differences exist--and naturally so. Divergent ways of life produce distinct people. People on one side of the country might believe differently than their counterparts on the opposite corner, and a problem presents itself when those not in your corner legislate ways of life, both for themselves and you and your community.

This is the basis of states’ rights.

Regardless of how one views an issue, it’s imperative to remember the American precept of personal freedom. This is why states like Colorado and Washington can legalize recreational marijuana while it remains unlawful at a federal level, and rightly so; states’ rights also apply when you disagree with what the state is doing.

States’ rights are vital to the continued pacification of a diverse grouping of states with different lifestyles and different values.

But it’s equally as important to understand the sometimes subtle differences that denote whether or not a particular issue is, in fact, a state’s right.

Strictly speaking, the Constitution gives to the states all powers not explicitly given to the federal government, per Article 10. Obviously, that’s not the case today, in large part due to loose descriptive terms in the powers given to the federal government. 

Generally, though, the trend is this; Constitutional rights cannot be states’ rights issues.

For example, segregation and Jim Crow laws were once justified by the use of states’ rights. Obviously, this was changed during the Civil Rights era because states practicing these policies were depriving individuals of Constitutional rights.

But issues like the use of recreational marijuana and the drinking age are certainly not outlined in the Constitution and thus are left to the individual states to decide. But other issues can become more dicey, often much more difficult to correctly classify.

An example of this might be the current debate raging over transgender rights. 

On one hand, certain states might not recognize the legitimacy of the transgender movement and therefore might elect to not allow transgender girls to compete in female sporting events. On the other hand, other states might see no difference between a transgender girl and natural-born girl and therefore would have no problem allowing transgender girls to compete in female sporting events.

But what about the use of bathrooms? Is that a states’ rights issue? Or does an issue like this begin to cross into the realm of Constitutional rights, and therefore should be left up to the federal government?

As I’m sure you’re all aware, that issue is currently being heatedly debated across the nation, with no final answer to speak of at the moment. Regardless, the balance between the powers of the states and the trump card of the federal government is an important principle of our Constitution and its methodical distribution of powers.

But I think we would all be wise to review the Tenth Amendment and the issue of states’ rights as we transition into a new administration that is likely to continue to create situations which will require an understanding of the states’ rights to resolve.

Jonathan Deemer is a sophomore studying biomedical science.