Gov. Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Stance: Principle or Political Pandering?

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. – Amendment X – Powers of the States and People. Ratified 12/15/1791.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) in his support of HCR 50, a resolution reaffirming Texas’ Tenth Amendment rights has reinvigorated not only the debate over state’s rights but also the ultimate “nuclear” option of a state’s right to secede from the U.S.

On April 9th, Gov. Perry explained his reasoning behind supporting the resolution.

    Gov. Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Stance: Principle?

Gov. Perry, speaking at a Tea Party event on April 15th went a step further telling the crowd that the day could come where Texas could decide to secede.

“We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Christy Hoppe, writing for The Dallas Morning News, calls the notion that Texas has a right to secede a “mythology.”

“The fact is, the treaty under which Texas joined the U.S. provides that it could be divided into five separate states. But it is not empowered to leave the union, a question that the Civil War seems to have settled once and for all.”

Left leaning blogs such as Texas Liberal also agree that the question of secession was “settled” with the Civil War and goes even further stating that Gov. Perry’s statements are “treasonous.”

On further inspection, the idea that individuals on the Left would call the question of secession settled should not be surprising at all. When taken to its ultimate conclusion, the philosophy of the Left is “might makes right.” If a majority of people can be convinced they have the right to pick the pockets of a minority of taxpayers, for example, then by all means. In their collectivist world view, “the majority rules;” individual rights must always take a back seat to the will of the majority.

The question of secession was by no means “settled” by the Civil War (or the War Between the States if you prefer), at least not in a sense which recognized the rule of law. Abraham Lincoln made a choice between upholding the U.S. Constitution and preserving the Union. With his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and other civil liberties we normally take for granted, Lincoln chose the latter*. The state’s rights issue was “settled” from the barrel of a gun in a period of U.S. history we now call “Reconstruction.”

Beyond this “settled history” argument, it seems to me that if the federal government violates the Tenth Amendment and ignores the sovereignty of the states, it stands to reason that the states can ignore the dictates of the federal government (which is really all Gov. Perry is trying to do). The Tenth Amendment was a guarantee to those who were concerned about states losing sovereignty to a stronger federal government. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that they had secured their independence form Great Britain, why would they want to surrender sovereignty to a new authority?

Over time, the Tenth Amendment was ignored by the courts and the congress. The aftermath of the Civil War practically changed the term “The United States” from an “are” to an “is.” And with the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, the states lost the ability to be represented at the federal level. For all practical purposes, the “United States of America” could be more accurately referred to as “The United State of America.”

These facts of history do not make the notion of either state’s rights or secession “mythology” by any means. The Declaration of Independence makes the case for “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” makes a similar case as does John Locke in his “Two Treatises of Government.” There is no shortage of political theory which supports Gov. Perry’s claim that states (and people for that matter) have the right to seek self determination and dissolve or separate themselves from oppressive government.

    Gov. Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Stance: Political Pandering?

Gov. Perry’s sudden concern for state’s rights does have me wondering about his motives. As I’ve pointed out above, this erosion of Tenth Amendment rights has been happening since before the text of the amendment’s ink dried. The federal government did not just start undermining state sovereignty when Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009.

I can’t help but wonder how concerned Gov. Perry was when his predecessor, George W. Bush, moved from the Texas Governor’s Mansion and into the White House imposing unfunded federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind? On what side of the state’s rights debate did Gov. Perry fall when the Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Department argued successfully before the Supreme Court that Angel Raich could not use marijuana for her medical conditions pursuant to California law on the theory of interstate commerce**?

Some of Perry’s critics believe that his sudden Tenth Amendment convictions have more to do with political pandering than principle (and they may have a point). Gov. Perry is looking to face Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 Republican Primary Governor’s race. What better way to win support than to promote state’s rights at a Tea Party event? Who knows, perhaps with all of the state’s rights and small government rhetoric he’s espousing, small government minded Texans will forget about his executive orders forcing 11 year-old girls to receive HPV vaccinations?

While it is great to hear someone of Gov. Perry’s stature stating that there are limits to federal power, it would be a lot easier for me to accept as genuine if it wasn’t his party that was out of power in Washington.

*This is not to say that slavery should have remained legal by any stretch. It should be noted that Lincoln’s main objective was preserving the Union, not ending slavery.

** Marijuana that she cultivated and used herself and provided to no one else. I still fail to see how this constitutes “interstate commerce.”

  • Miko

    Re: “might makes right”

    It seems to me it’s mainly right-wing conservatives that are complaining about courts upholding marriage rights and asserting that the issue should be settled by “the will of the people” and democracy.

    A more accurate statement is that most people (left or right) support majority rule whenever they’re part of the majority. Conversely, most people sound remarkably like libertarians whenever they’re in the minority.

  • Yertle

    Perry was a frequent critic of Bush’s big spending, to answer your question.

  • Tom Knighton

    I’ve been saying for the last couple of days on another blog that an attack on any freedom is an attack on all freedoms. The same is very true on rights. After the Tenth Amendment ceased being anything but the answer to a trivia question, the powers that be focused on others, such as the Second and Fourth Amendments. The First Amendment as well.

    I agree that nothing was “settled” about a state’s right to succeed after the Civil War. Instead, it was truly the beginning of the end of state sovereignty. While I question Governor Perry’s motives, I sincerely hope that Yertle is right and we have a solid ally in him.

  • southernjames

    Of course it’s pandering. It’s what politicians do. Of all stripes. It’s just a lot of hot air being blown to make a point. So what? But since nobody was hollering “treason” at Lt. Gov Howard Dean when he was moderating town hall meetings in Vermont about Vermont suceding, then let’s all remember what was thrown in OUR faces for the past 8 years:

    “Dissent is the Highest form of Patriotism!”

  • Stephen Littau

    Miko, you’re absolutely right. The Democrats sounded remarkably libertarian (at least on civil rights issues) when they were out of power; now that they have the power they sound, well…like Democrats.

    The same holds true for the Republicans. Remember the Contract with America? How libertarian did they sound with that? But what happened when they gained the levers of Power? They didn’t seem so libertarian anymore! (and they sounded less libertarian in each congress).

    I think there is another Machiavellian philosophy both the Left and the Right share: “The ends justify the means.” It does not matter if the means are the courts, the ballot box, or the congress as long as their goals are accomplished.

    I guess I singled out the Left because I finished reading several Left wing blogs such as the Huffington Post on the whole secession issue. In their view it seems that only racist rednecks support secession and that the only government that counts is the federal government. Hell, if anything they would prefer the U.S. become part of a one world government because our federal government isn’t BIG enough!

  • southernjames

    The Huffington post didn’t seem so upset by succession when it was Howie Dean and the Vermonters talking it up.

    I guess it’s jist when sum o’ dem unedumacated rednecks brings it up, it becomes a concern.

    Sure there is plenty of hypocrisy all around. But Republicans transforming themselves into big government Democrats AFTER they got power is one of the main reasons if not the primary reason they are OUT of power now, and why people like Gingrich of Contract with America fame, are now widely distrusted by conservatives, and why Republican politicians get booed at Tea Parties.

    If you ‘Tarians would stop lumping together conservatives who usually end up holding their noses and voting for the Republican candidate because the only (viable, as in, can actually win) alternative is the Euro-Socialist Party candidate, with the Republican Party itself, you’d make some big strides in building alliances.

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  • Joshua Holmes

    I assure you, southernjames, that whoever wins or loses the election does so regardless of what you do on Election Day.

  • southernjames

    “I assure you, southernjames, that whoever wins or loses the election does so regardless of what you do on Election Day.”

    What on earth is that supposed to mean? What I do on Election day has no impact?

    What – my vote and the influence I may have on the votes of others around me, doesn’t count?

    I live in Florida. Do you recall how many votes separated Gore from Bush in 2000?

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  • in exile

    We’re prisoners of the corrupt “two party” duopoly that desperately wants to maintain business as usual:

    A change in the voting system would allow principled advocates(instead of the usual cynical pols) of state sovereignty to create a presence in state government. Electing one house of the state legislature by statewide Proportional Representation would create a permanent bloc of pro-Tenth Amendment legislators. Incredibly, when you actually have elected officials the general public takes you more seriously and even the MSM can’t entirely dismiss you.

    You can be certain that almost all the incumbent politicians are simply posturing on this issue and looking for a chance to back down.

    States like Montana that allow constitutional amendments through initiative and referendum can bypass the politicians and enact reforms like PR and Range Voting.