Suddenly, it appears that most extreme elements of our political debate have discovered the Tenth Amendment in arguing for either secession or a type of state independence that borders on separatism. This video of a Texas secessionist rally is shocking given the chants of “we hate the United States” but it is most telling in recognition that “legal secession” it no longer a serious claim. Others do not want to secede but rather to use the Tenth Amendment to bar such things as the national health bill from closing their borders. I discussed this story last night on this segment of the Rachel Maddow show.
The most striking aspect of this Texas rally is that many of the speakers have given up on claiming a legal avenue for secession — a ridiculous claim made by Gov. Perry out of a shocking level of ignorance of his own constitution and state history. Indeed, the speakers (after the unhinged man shown in the video clip above) admit that they are calling for a “bloody civil war” and not some constitutional transition:
Other states are considering less radical and bloody opposition to the health care bill or taxation. Some like Georgia are calling for challenging the national health care plan on the basis for the Tenth Amendment.
Sens. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) and Chip Rogers (R-Marietta) have been joined by members of the legislator to seek an amendment to their Constitution to allow Georgia to invoke the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to oppose the use of the health plan in Georgia.
On its face, it is a rather bizarre bill. If the 10th Amendment says what these legislators think its says, they would not need to amend their state constitution — they could stop the program on the basis of the federal constitution.
However, to do so would require the Supreme Court to reverse decades of rulings. It is extremely rare for the Court to overturn legislation on this basis. Having said this, there is a great difference between this argument and the extremists in these Texas videos. Federalism is an important part of our Constitution and many of us are great believers in the rights of the states to go their own way on policy and programs. Indeed, I have long advocated greater protection of states in their fight against the federal government in areas like medical marijuana and assisted suicide laws, here.
The Tenth Amendment, however, reads as a more robust protection than the Court has been willing recognize. The amendment itself proclaims: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Yet, the Court has rarely used the Tenth Amendment to strike down laws. For example, when the Court protected federalism principles in United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) — invalidating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (the “Act”), 18 U.S.C. § 922(q) — it did so under Article I and the commerce clause.
The Court did rely on the Tenth Amendment to strike down the law in New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992), involving a provision of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985. This provision required states to enforce the federal law. This was the similar result as Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), where the Court held that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act violated the Tenth Amendment by requiring states to enforce the law.
Yet, most cases follow the result in Wickard v. Filburn (1942), where the Court rejected challenges to federal wheat regulation.
The problem with this claim is multifold. First and most notably, the law hasn’t been fully drafted, let alone enacted. Second, if it does contain an “option” for citizens, it is hard to see the state sovereignty objection when citizens can refuse the option. Third, like social security and other social programs addressing national problems, it would be upheld as a legitimate exercise of the national legislature.
This does not mean that the White House might not blow it in the drafting. Requiring states to enforce aspects of the law can be problematic, as shown above. However, the Court has upheld the right of Congress to pressure states into voluntary cooperation by threatening to withhold federal funds.
Given the prior case history, a Tenth Amendment challenge would appear highly unpromising absent a serious mistake in drafting. The Court has left such questions to the political process and critics have certainly done well in that arena thus far. However, if the Administration passes a national health plan with a public option, it could be drafted to pass the tests previously laid out by the Court.
For the Georgia story, click here.