Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

States do not have "rights"---human beings have "rights."

   States do not have “rights.” States have powers.  Human beings have “rights.”
   This is an important distinction. When some people argue that the Federal government overreaches, often they do so in the context of an issue in which a violation of the rights of “States’ rights” is claimed.  “States rights” often was raised in regard to Federal legislation in the 1960s aimed at racial discrimination. More recently advocates of greater restrictions on reproductive rights and greater ability to keep and bear arms have cited States’ rights as justification for their efforts.
   The Tenth Amendment is cited as the basis in the United States Constitution for protection of States’ rights.  However, the Tenth Amendment makes no mention of States’ “rights”: “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.”
   That people, not States, have rights, is reflected in the Declaration of Independence: “WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the Governed...”
   The concept that government exists by the consent of the governed gave rise to the modern—as in since the 1700s—concept of government. The notion that States—governmental entities—possess rights is antithetical to this notion. If a government—a State—has rights, it is on a par with, not subservient to, its creators—people.
   The Civil War was fought for various reasons. One area of concern was “States’ rights.” The “right” in question was cited, in resolutions that accompanied secession votes, by four of the States that seceded from the Union. The “right” was the “right” of citizens to own as chattel other citizens.  Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia specifically cited the threat posed to the institution of slavery as the reason for secession.
   President Lincoln sought to preserve the Union. Unfortunately, he did not press for abolition of slavery. That abolition was a necessary outcome of the Civil War became obvious as fighting continued far longer than leaders on either side had anticipated. The Civil War amendments were enacted and adopted. They ended slavery and sought to protect the rights of individuals against the States.
   If someone wants to advocate the notion that individual States should exercise greater powers, they should do so without reliance upon those States possessing any “rights”—unless that person wants to adopt a position alien to the concepts of government upon which the Framers of the Constitution based their notions of “rights” and governmental powers.
   To say “I want more power for the State!” is not as compelling as to advocate for the protection of States’ rights. The latter is a passive sort of thing. The former is scary—as it should be.

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