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Ellis: States’ rights debate is nothing new

April 12, 2010

As he often does, CNHI reporter Ronnie Ellis has an insightful column that brings in the history of an issue while looking at its implications in the present.

In his column from Friday, Ellis takes a look at states rights, and the ongoing battle that’s been waged between the federal government and those of individual states.

As Ellis notes, the issue of states rights has risen again over the issue of health care. A group of states is questioning the ability of the federal government to impose a national health care reform bill upon individual states.

It’s most apparently seen in the rising voices of those in the Tea Party movement, with pledges to “take our country/government back.”

From Ellis’s column –

That’s a staple of TEA Party rallies. But the states’ rights debate is as old as the U.S. Constitution. It was behind the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the wake of the Alien and Sedition Acts. It was there in the nullification crisis of 1832 when South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun argued a state could nullify federal laws it didn’t like. Sound familiar?

But as Ellis notes, many of the issues associated with the states rights battles of the past are ones that for the large part, history has shown the federal government was not only on the winning side, but the right side.

From his column –

The Constitution relies on a concept of shared sovereignty by the federal and state governments. We’ve been trying to determine precisely where that line should be drawn ever since “we the people” ratified the Constitution. But over the last 150 years we’ve chosen to move it steadily in the direction of the federal government.

The concept of states’ rights is appealing when so many think the federal government is out of control. But we shouldn’t forget it was once used to enslave people, justify secession, restrict voting at various times to white male property owners and to segregate schools; and that in some states the man who is now the elected leader of the free world couldn’t sit at a public lunch counter.

Give the column a read and share your thoughts.


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