NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Washington Shoves Federalism Aside

October 26, 1999

Political observers report that federal lawmakers of both parties support states' rights in theory, but most of them can't help trying to interfere when they don't like what states are doing.

Observers say the federal government is constantly taking actions that supersede state laws.

Here are just a few of the examples critics cite:

  • The House is about to debate a federal ban on assisted suicides which would overturn an Oregon law.
  • The controversial Patients Bill of Rights could preempt health-care statutes in dozens of states.
  • The House Judiciary Committee has passed a bill making electronic signatures valid nationwide, regardless of state laws.
  • A House subcommittee is preparing to take up a national electricity deregulation bill which could supersede at least 26 state deregulation plans.

There have, however, been a few major legislative initiatives bowing to states' rights.

  • In 1995, Congress agreed to end its age-old practice of dumping "unfunded mandates" on the states.
  • In the 1996 overhaul of welfare, states were allowed to design their own antipoverty programs -- although the law also included new mandates requiring states to form their own child-support bureaucracies.
  • This year, Congress barred federal officials from raiding the $246 billion settlement that states won from tobacco companies.

Supporters of states' rights can also take some comfort in the Supreme Court's recent rediscovery of the Constitution's Tenth Amendment -- striking down several federal laws on the grounds that they intrude on powers reserved to the states.

Source: Michael Grunwald, "In Legislative Tide, State Power Ebbs," Washington Post, October 24, 1999.


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