Federalism: Case for Reinvigorating State's Rights
By Dustin Hawkins
There is an ongoing battle over the proper size and role of the federal government, especially as it relates to conflicts with state governments over legislative authority. Conservatives believe that state and local governments should be empowered to handle local issues such as healthcare, education, immigration, and many other social and economic laws.
Original Constitutional Roles
There is little question that the current role of the federal government far exceeds anything ever imagined by the founders and has clearly taken over many roles originally designated to individual states.
The founding fathers, through the U.S. Constitution, sought to limit the possibility of a strong centralized government and in fact gave the federal government a very limited list of responsibilities. Simplified, the founders thought that the federal government should handle issues that it would be difficult or unreasonable for states to handle such as the maintenance of military and defense operations, negotiating with foreign countries, creating currency, and regulating commerce with foreign countries. Ideally, individual states would then handle all most matters that they reasonably could. The founders even went further in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights to prevent the federal government from grabbing too much power.
Benefits of Stronger State Governments
One of the clear benefits of a weaker federal government and stronger state governments is that the needs of each individual state are more easily managed. Alaska, Iowa, Rhode Island, and Florida are all very different states with very different needs, populations, and values.
A law that may make sense in New York might make little sense in Alabama. For example: Some states have determined it is necessary to prohibit the use of fireworks due to an environment that is highly susceptible to wild fires. Other states have no such problems and have laws that allow fireworks. It would not be valuable for the federal government to make one standardized law for all states prohibiting fireworks when only a handful of states need such a law in place. State control also empowers states to make tough decisions for their own well-being rather than hope that the federal government will see the states’ problem as a priority.
A strong state government also empowers citizens in two ways. First, state governments are far more responsive to the needs of the residents of their state. If important issues are not addressed, then voters can hold elections and vote in people they feel are better suited to handle the problems. However, if an issue is only important to one state and the federal government has authority over that issue, then they have little influence to get the change they seek as they are but a small part of a larger electorate. Second, empowered state governments also allow individuals to choose the state that best fit their own personal values. Families and individuals are able to choose states that either have no or low income taxes, or states with higher ones. They can opt for states with weak or strong guns laws, with restrictions on marriage or without them, and so on. Some people may prefer to live in a state that offers a wide range of government programs and services, others may not. But just as the free market allows individuals to pick and choose products or services they like, so to can they choose a state that best fits their lifestyle. An over-reaching federal government limits this option.
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