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Tue., Jan. 26, 2010

Editorial: States’ rights bills waste lawmakers’ time, efforts

After the painful budget cuts of 2009, Washington and Idaho lawmakers are reconvening and contemplating more reductions. It’s serious business, but it is why they were elected. They were not sent to Olympia and Boise to second-guess the long history of federal court decisions that have formed the guidelines of federalism.

And yet some legislators think the time is ripe to erect sudden barriers to federal involvement. We’ve all heard the complaint about judges “legislating from the bench.” This must be the flip side, with state legislators stepping outside their jurisdictions and areas of expertise to interpret the U.S. Constitution.

We understand the arguments of 10th Amendment advocates as they seek to limit the federal government’s reach. We agree with some of their points and disagree with others. But it’s wrongheaded to pursue this through state legislatures. It’s as if Supreme Court justices demanded a seat at the table as legislators drew up their budgets.

State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Greenacres, is introducing a series of “sovereignty” bills that forbid the feds from imposing health care, firearms or environmental mandates. Sen. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, and Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, are taking aim with similar bills in Idaho. Some of this is an attempt at “nullification,” meaning states could ignore laws they didn’t agree with.

But Congress has been given expansive powers to regulate commerce and impose laws based on interpretations of the Constitution by federal courts. The boundaries expand and contract as rulings are handed down. If citizens aren’t happy with those decisions or feel the Constitution is being ignored, the place to seek redress is the federal courts.

Tenth Amendment activists can proclaim their beliefs, but they won’t get anywhere if they can’t persuade the judiciary. Nor can states decide on their own to opt out of federal laws. The last time that happened, it started a civil war.

These bills are a waste of time. Even if they passed, they would still need to be submitted at some point to federal courts to determine whether they pass constitutional muster. This irony highlights the simple fact that this sovereignty show is taking place in the wrong arena.

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