Gov. Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Stance: Principle or Political Pandering?by Stephen Littau
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.”