Monday, November 10, 2008

Hiding Behind States' Rights

People tend to hide a multitude of sins under the banner of "states rights".

There actually are states' rights issues involving property and taxes and other mundane things but nobody knows about those so they could hardly get upset if they lost them. No, it's only issues involving basic civil rights where people really cling to their states rights.

Occasionally a state may invoke states rights because they're ahead of the curve on some issue, but usually, it's a matter of a state or a collection of states desperately holding on to something the rest of the nation moved away from a long time ago.

The problem with this is that the most basic model of this country is the premise that all people are created equal, therefore they all have equal civil rights and you can't say we all have equal rights if they fluctuate from state to state. You can't have "equal protection under the law", if a person has a civil right in Wyoming but doesn't have it in Mississippi.

The first of these issues we had to deal with was slavery. Resolving it took the most bitter and brutal of all courses in a horrible war. You can tell yourself all sorts of bed-time stories about how the Civil War wasn't over slavery, but it doesn't change history.

The next two issues over the right of women to vote and the right of all people to drink were settled the most civilly of all, by voting on amendments to the constitution. This is how the founding fathers designed for us to handle these issues.

The next big issues was the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws in the South. Those were fought in the supreme court and settled by executive order. That may have been the best way to handle those issues because they weren't actually new rights, but reinterpretation of existing rights. It was still far more painful than it needed to be though.

Currently there are three issues on this field: abortion, the separation of church and state and gay rights. There is at least one side with each of these issues trying to make them an issue of states rights. That's simply not going to work with any of these issues.

You can't allow abortion in one state, but not its neighbor. Likewise, we can't have gay marriages recognized in some states but not in others and we can't have different standards for separating church and states across the nation.

Using the civil rights movement as a model, people have been trying to resolve these issues in the court. With the possible exception of separation of church and state, that model is inadequate in these circumstances.

For one thing, it has lead to a fight to manipulate the composition of the Supreme Court one way or another to try and make their decisions come out whichever way partisan groups want.

We need to face up to our responsibility with these issues and settle them, not in the courts, but with amendments.

Amendments can be difficult. Sometimes to get the necessary votes, compromises must be made, but, it is the way our government was designed and it's the most logical and peaceful path we have available to us.

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