The Growing Republican 10th Amendment Debate

A major issue for limited government conservatives to track in upcoming Republican presidential debates is the conversation on the 10th Amendment. This amendment reserves rights not enumerated to the federal government to the states and people, and is a major tenet of federalism. This states' rights issue is critical in the debate over the scope of the federal government. 

Unfortunately, the principle of local governance is easily tarred and feathered by the left using the Jim Crow and slavery memes. Since most welfare schemes cannot survive interstate competition, it is imperative that they be imposed on a national level. The August 11 debate has made it apparent that much of the Republican field still needs to find solid philosophical footing regarding the division of federal and state prerogatives.

Mitt Romney attempted a federalist argument in favor of his individual health insurance mandate in Massachusetts. Similarly, Ron Paul actually asserted that the 10th Amendment reserves the right for states to do "bad things."  John Huntsman, following the Romney strategy, defended his support for civil unions by arguing for the states to define marriage. Herman Cain made a vague argument about "empowering states" to solve illegal immigration.  Rick Perry, a self proclaimed states' rights advocate will surely add another voice to this issue when he enters the contest.  Rick Santorum made an excellent counterpoint to the above mentioned debaters, arguing that federalism doesn't mean states can simply run wild. 

In fact, the United States Constitution does guarantee citizens the right to  republican state governments, and the Federalist Papers which supported the adoption of that document generally endorse the view of state governments and the federal government balancing against usurpation and schemes by one or the other. The 10th Amendment does not give states dictatorial rights over their populations. Furthermore, some issues are clearly national and should not be left to the states at all.

The federalism issue may seem like a sideshow, but in fact it is the key to solving the sickness of our national government.  The eventual Republican nominee had best carefully craft and then articulate the party's position on this matter. The Constitution, the Federalist Papers, history, and general logic will be helpful starting points. If the states' rights argument is too weak, it will be ineffectual in narrowing the scope of the federal government. If it goes too far, it will outrun its logical and philosophical support and be easy to dismiss.

Clay Hegar can be reached at

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