Why Don’t Conservatives Respect States’ Rights?
States’ Rights are always a major component of Republican platforms and policies. At least that’s what they say. But they repeatedly abandon States’ Rights when it is convenient for the cause du jour.
Remember Terri Schiavo? She was the Florida woman who suffered extensive brain damage after cardiac arrest. After years in a coma, with over half her brain atrophied, and with every competent physical examination concluding that she would never recover, her husband sought to keep his prior promise to her by ending her life with dignity. But her parents were unable to let go of their daughter and mounted a protracted legal challenge. These end-of-life medical issues have always been under state jurisdiction (a States’ Right). Nevertheless, national Republicans sought to use the family’s suffering for political gain. Time and a again they sought to interfere with the Florida courts’ orders. Senate Majority Leader William First, a trained physician, declared on the basis of a picture, and without actually examining her, that Terry was not brain dead. The publicity the right raised caused a siege around the hospice caring for Terry, disrupting the dignity of all their dying patients. Congress passed a law usurping the right of the state of Florida to decide this issue. Bush cut short his vacation in Crawford to sign the legislation. In this case the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, and the family was finally allowed to end their suffering.
In 2000 States’ Rights were once again a prominent part of the Republican presidential campaign. With the very close vote in Florida unsettled, the Republicans raised a pitched battle to control the recounts. The constitution is very clear that it is up to the states to determine how presidential elections are conducted and how to cast their electoral votes (Artilce II: “…Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”). Congress has passed some procedural rules to assist the states in submitting their results in a timely and orderly way. Fearing that they could lose the election, the Republicans did not hesitate to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Court, stacked with Republican appointees, repeatedly ruled in Bush’s favor. Their final ruling dictated how the state was to proceed, ignoring the clear language in the constitution that leaves these decisions to the states. Meanwhile the Republican publicity machine imported agitators and whipped supporters into such a riotous frenzy that election boards had to suspend recounts out of concern for public safety. A proper recount was prevented and Bush declared the winner. The irony is that once the ballots were reviewed calmly (long after Bush was inaugurated) it became clear that Bush did, in fact, receive the most votes. So it wasn’t really necessary to for the Republicans to throw State’s Rights (and due process) under the bus.
During the health care debate of 2009 the following phrase was repeated over and over by Republicans and Tea Partiers: “allow health insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.” I suspect not one person in ten knows what this means. It is, in fact, a covert assault on States’ Rights. There are dozens of nationwide health insurance companies which sell health insurance in every state. Every state has the right to determine the minimum requirements for policies sold in their state. For example, some states require that all health insurance policies sold in their states must include a specific minimum amount of coverage for mental health treatment. Other states may have a different minimum or may not include this requirement. That’s one reason there are differences in the price for minimum coverage from state to state. The Republican language “allow companies to sell policies across state lines” is an attempt to force all states to reduce their requirements to those of the least restrictive state. It is also an attempt to undermine health care reform by reducing coverage, not improving coverage. It is a particularly cynical example of Republican denial of States’ Rights.
From gay marriage to abortion rights to zoning decisions for religious buildings, the Right puts its political agenda ahead of States' Rights time and again. The belief that Republicans protect States’ Rights is as false as the myths that Republicans are champions of small government (every Republican administration has proposed and implemented new federal programs, bureaucracies, and spending) or that Republicans are fiscal conservatives (every Republican administration has expanded the growth rate of the federal deficit while Democrats have slowed it).