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A Matter Of Opinion

History lesson about states’ rights

Idaho legislator Dick Harwood harvested a truckload of attention with his comment that the United States is a “confederacy.” Betsy Russell wrote about it on today’s front page.

Harwood is pushing a memorial to Congress and the president declaring that Idaho is sovereign and asks the federal government to stop interfering with that sovereignty.

That issue was pretty much resolved with the Constitution was drafted, debated and ratified. George Washington referred to state sovereignty as a monster. Madison wrote against it in Federalist 45. The first major case handled by the U.S. Supreme Court, Chisolm v. Georgia, declared that states aren’t sovereign. Yes, the 11th Amendment was ratified to overturn part of the impact of Chisolm v. Georgia, but only to protect states from being sued in the federal courts by citizens in another state or a foreign country.

The founders wanted to respect states’ role, but they resolved the sovereignty debate in the federal government’s favor. As Madison wrote to Washington: “I have sought for some middle ground, which mat at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.”

In the 10th Amendment, one delegate to the Constitutional Convention wanted to insert the word “expressly” in the phrase about “powers not delegated to the United States.” Madison argued against it and carried the day.

Rep. Harwood may want to assert that Idaho is sovereign, and a majority of the Idaho Legislature may agree. But the memorial is toothless, and history is against them.


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