Civil Discourse Now

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States do not possess "rights," either in theory or in the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

   Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Iowa, Joni Ernst—who has run a TV ad in which she fires a handgun in a practice range, a metaphor on how “tough” she would be if elected—has been the subject of a story on The Daily Beast.  There the candidate was shown speaing on September 13, 2013, at “a forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition” in which Ernst said, among other things, Congress should not pass laws “that the states would consider nullifying” and “we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights.”
   Ernst might be forgiven for her apparent neglect in reading the text of the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere does the Tenth Amendment refer to States possessing “rights.”  Had the Framers chosen to do so, they could have. However, the notion that a State—a governmental entity—possesses “rights” is antithetical to the concept of consent by the “governed.” After all, if a State has “rights” then it is on a par with, and not subservient to, the people—the “governed—from whom it derives its existence.
   People come together and consent to government. People possess “unalienable rights,” with which they are “born,” according to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration goes on to note: “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...”
   The notion that States enjoy “rights” contradicts the premises of the political philosophy embraced at the time of the writing of the Declaration and the later Constitution. States are “governments.” “State” is defined as: “The system of rules by which jurisdiction and authority are exercised over a politically organized body of people; the political organization or the body of people itself.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Pocket ed., 1996, p. 590.
   “States’ rights” has been a slogan advanced for other causes. States sought to withdraw from the United States in 1861 in order to protect their “right” to engage in chattel slavery. Similar sentiments were expressed by those in the 1950s and 1960s who sought to stop integration of our public schools.
   One would hope candidate Ernst fails in her bid for United States Senate.

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