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As states and feds struggle over power, where do the people fit in?

In a recent interview on the Hugh Hewitt show Attorney General William Barr stated that the Department of Justice would be willing to look over cases and even potentially support citizens if they choose to pursue legal action against their state's stay at home orders (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/barr-doj-may-side-with-citizens-who-sue-states-over-coronavirus-restrictions). AG Barr said that citizens could have a case if certain orders violated constitutional rights, comparing some to house arrest, and even arguing that Americans are faced with, “unprecedented burdens on civil liberties.” Democrats have since responded with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, “So much for states’ rights. I mean I think they’ll be way off base. I think he will lose legally. And his view of an overarching almost monarchical president never ceases to amaze me".


While the subject of federalism has been brought up frequently during this period, few seem to read the 10th amendment in its entirety. It reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Many may complain about the overreach of the federal government, but the same can be said at the state and local levels. Sometimes tyranny is even greater the more it is localized. The 10th amendment is vague as to which powers are delegated on purpose so as not to limit or define specific rights and pigeonhole the states or the people. In doing so, however, this has opened up the debate to various interpretations.


In Federalist 45 Madison states, "It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object. Were the plan of the convention adverse to the public happiness, my voice would be, Reject the plan. Were the Union itself inconsistent with the public happiness, it would be, Abolish the Union. In like manner, as far as the sovereignty of the States cannot be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former be sacrificed to the latter."


Let's remember that the Constitutional Convention was organized because the Articles of Confederation created a weak federal government that was constantly defied and bullied by the more powerful state governments. The members of the convention wanted to strengthen the federal government while still maintaining a balance between its parts and its relationship with the states and the people. In all of this mess it seems that the federal government and the state governments have disregarded the people in a petty struggle for power. Let's not forget that the constitution begins "We the people..". As Madison states, any government must first and foremost serve the public good. Will all of this be sacrificed instead for the public safety? While public good and public safety sound similar, there is a distinction that lawmakers must keep in mind as we move forward.

Image credit: ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS



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