Democrats redefine state’s rights, expose republicans
“States’ rights” is often seen as a pejorative code word, and not without good reason.
In the antebellum South, the phrase was used by slave owners to justify their “peculiar institution.” Less than century after slavery was abolished, many rallied behind states’ rights as a means to resist desegregation and integration.
These examples give states’ rights a racist connotation, but a lot has changed in the last decade or two. States’ rights now stand for entirely new things: same-sex marriage, recreational marijuana, assisted suicide, living wages, sanctuaries cities and safe havens.
Who redefined such a time-tested conservative expression of small government? Look no further than American liberals.
Across the United States, left-leaning politicians at the local and state levels have enacted ordinances and legislation that contradict or conflict with federal law.
But why have Democrats and liberals made it a point to co-opt a strategy so fiercely defended by Republicans and conservatives? What’s so special about states’ rights?
Consider the current political circumstances across the United States.
At the national level, Republicans enjoy firm control of the federal government. President Donald Trump sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate and 241 seats in the House of Representatives, majorities in both chambers.
Meanwhile, 33 of the nation’s state governors are Republicans. A 34th leader, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, is a former Republican that ran and won as an Independent in 2014.
The Republican Party also has majorities in 37 state senates (including Nebraska’s unicameral, nonpartisan legislature) and 31 state house chambers. Of the 7,383 state legislative seats nationwide, Republicans hold 4,176 of them.
The facts say the U.S. is awfully red.
In a sense, states’ rights efforts by the Democratic Party may be an attempt to appeal to more moderate conservatives. If Democrats could sway enough voters in each state, the country might go blue again.
However, I think liberals who champion grassroots political causes and local policy-setting have much deeper political reasons for doing so. It exposes some of the hypocrisy of the right.
Now that conservatives hold the majority of power in the U.S., one question is whether they will consistently govern on their principles.
In North Carolina, they have already proven they won’t.
On February 22, 2016, the Charlotte City Council passed Ordinance 7056, which prohibited the city from entering contracts with firms that have discriminated on grounds of “sexual orientation, gender identity” and “gender expression.”
On principle, North Carolina Republicans, who exercised states’ rights when they withdrew from Affordable Care Act funded expansions of Medicaid programs, should have allowed the Charlotte government to carry out its business. It only makes sense to devolve power closer to the people.
Instead, state legislators called a special session of the General Assembly March 23, 2016, and crafted HB2, a law signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory that denies transgender individuals from using the bathrooms of their choice.
Portions of HB2 concerning the consistency of employment and contracting laws, which was the original purpose of Ordinance 7056, directly strip power from localities like Charlotte, stating that state law supersedes and preempts “any ordinance, regulation, resolution or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State.”
Republicans only care about states’ rights and giving power to the people when it is politically expedient for them to do so. Now that they’re in the saddle, they don’t care so much about the 10th Amendment, which delegates powers not given to the federal government to the states and the people.
That doesn’t give Democrats the vaunted moral high ground. They’re using states’ rights for the sake of convenience too.
In a lot of cases, liberals can only exert control at the local level because they don’t have much else right now. For example, of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., 67 have Democratic mayors or executives.
But Democrats do have a moral upper hand on traditional conservative states’ rights proponents. Liberals at the local and state level support gender equality and inclusion, expanded social freedoms, economic quality of life and immigration and asylum protections.
That’s a far cry from wanting things to be the way they used to.