Arguments That Give Me Pause: ‘States’ Rights!!!’

states' rights, voting rights, drug policy, gun control, education, arguments, give me pause
Before Scott Pruitt was trying to be the head of the EPA, he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General, and he loved to sue the federal government.

We should be allowed to ignore laws that infringe upon states’ rights!

When Americans learn about their government and politics, they will eventually hear about the states’ rights debate. Some of us first heard of the doctrine when we learned about the Civil War. But it undoubtedly shows up now when issues like drug policy and gun control are discussed.

The point of this post is not to eschew the idea of states’ rights in its entirety. Of course, there are times when state law must be respected and take precedence, because it makes the most sense. But there are sinister reasons for certain parties to take up the mantle for the states.

As I laid out in the fact sheet I created two weeks ago, this debate has existed before the drafting of the Constitution. The first constitution the original 13 colonies had was the Articles of Confederation, which only created a collection of loosely connected states with a week central government. The states needed to replace the Articles for their long-term survival.

Among our Forefathers, the federal and anti-federal debated was clearly represented by Alexander Hamilton (a Federalist) and Thomas Jefferson (a Democratic-Republican). As the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Jefferson spearheaded the Nullification Act in South Carolina, which held that states should be able to ignore federal laws that were deemed unconstitutional. The Federalists’ acts definitely violated the First Amendment but was Jefferson in the right?

Should states be allowed to ignore federal laws state leaders don’t like, even if they are unconstitutional? And should efforts be made to erode federal power in specific areas?

What Is Wrong With the Argument?

As many people will attest, the real debate has been hijacked. Republicans (and Democrats and organizations who are aligned with them on particular issues) are often the ones to talk about the reserved rights states have in order to make specific, regional policies. However, the same policymakers and organizations flip flop on the issue whenever it suits them.

Some of the same conservative lawmakers seek to push federal legislation aimed at social issues, the banking industry, and increasing defense spending. Both run counter to the right’s stated position of limited (federal) government and fiscal responsibility.

And I would also agree that civil rights have always remained a huge factor in the debate.


As I also mentioned in my fact sheet, slavery dominated the debate since the drafting of the Constitution and civil rights dominated the debate in the years following Reconstruction.

Alabama Governor George Wallace’s statements at his 1963 inauguration were a huge tipoff to how the issue of states’ rights was co-opted.

Let us send this message back to Washington, via the representatives who are here with us today. From this day, we are standing up, and the heel of tyranny does not fit the neck of an upright man.

Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us, and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.

At the time of Wallace’s speech, the federal government was working to integrate schools. The Jim Crow laws were instituted in Southern and border states in 1977. Everything like seating, water fountains, restrooms, housing areas, hospitals, and schools were separated based on race (one for whites and one for “coloreds”).

Wallace would later come to regret his words, but not before signing laws that negatively impacted non-white voters, on the premise of “states’ rights.”


The views on education are iffy, at best.

No Child Left Behind was an overarching law, but it was supported by people who say they are opposed to federal intrusion. The law did not address the underlying problems behind test scores, like crime, hunger, and home life. It just exacerbated academic problems.

NCLB threatened schools with low test scores. Much-needed funding was taken from schools as a punitive measure. The push for charter schools was part of the law, as some lower-performing schools were eventually converted to charters.

In some cases, textbooks are politicized. In some Texas history books, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr. were called “troublemakers.” Such a development was dangerous because many schools follow Texas’ lead when it comes to purchasing textbooks.

Drug Policy

If asked about decriminalizing some drugs, politicians will turn down that question without even considering it. Why is that?

When you look at the types of laws we have and how they’re enforced, there is not just an incidental overlap with civil rights issues.

Consider the War on Drugs.

It effectively started in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed and signed by President Richard M. Nixon. And Nixon, looking for a way to punish blacks for being black (and hippies for being anti-war), used drug policy to suit that purpose. This was corroborated by John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s aides, but Ehrlichman’s 1994 interview with Dan Baum from Harper’s Bazaar was only discussed in 2016.

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Look at the policies of Reagan. He made the possession and use of crack cocaine carry harsher penalties than the possession and use of powder cocaine.

Also, black and white Americans use marijuana at similar rates, but blacks are arrested more often for it and for longer periods of time.

This isn’t about the states, and that’s the point.

Gun Control

“States’ rights” proponents often have different views on guns and drugs. Many Republicans and Democrats want to ban all drugs besides alcohol and pharmaceuticals. At the same time, the same lawmakers fight against gun control measures. Politicians from both sides are bought off by the respective lobbies.

The NRA in particular has run contradictory efforts to first defeat state-level gun control measures. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was passed in 2005 at the NRA’s behest. But when Congress tried to seriously look at gun control after the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA moved to defeat congressional gun control measures by carrying the banner of states’ rights.

Voting Rights

That is where Federal law comes in and it should override state law as it pertains to a national need and the Equal Protection clause. Voting is one of our most important rights. I don’t care if state officials feel singled out, especially if they are guilty of find sneaky and dishonest ways of restricting the vote.

In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 5-4 decision came on June 25, 2013.

Now, I know some people will argue that the act violated states’ rights because it singled out Southern States. But, that not’s true.

For one thing, Section 5 has been applied in states like Alaska, Arizona, California, and New York, as well. But that’s beside the point.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was so important because of the draconian voting laws in the South, and other states that were covered by the law. And even after the law was passed, governors like Wallace from Alabama, passed laws to spy on civil rights workers and make voting harder for blacks still.

So now that Section 5 has been gutted by the Supreme Court, red states in particular have gone crazy with voter ID laws and other laws to limit the vote. As it turns out, the communities most affected by the law changes mostly have minorities.

The Negative Effects of the SCOTUS Decision

Well, one can argue that everyone of age should already have an ID. But, that’s easier said than done.

Often an ID isn’t enough. An 85-year-old woman could have her ID, but then she’ll be asked to show her birth certificate. Then she’ll be asked why her last name is different (she could have been married, and I’m sure that’s a public record).

Some states have made it virtually impossible for people get (or renew) their identification cards. DMV offices in those states, like Pennsylvania, have either seen their hours (and days) reduced, been reduced in number, or both. People have to work and they don’t have the time to stand in long lines when they would be at their jobs anyway.

And some people might not be able to afford identification at one point. Should the states not pay for ID to help those with the most need or give them discounts?

And even if people can get through the above hurdles, there’s always the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

What’s Crosscheck, you ask?

Why, it’s a system by which people can be knocked off the voter rolls if they have similar names. One person’s name and birthdate can be compared to another eligible voter’s name. Supposedly, Social Security Numbers are used, but that isn’t always the case.

If there’s a match with the first and last names and birthdate, at least one voter may be disenfranchised. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if the middle names are different, because the system is flawed.

By the way, this was used by one of Donald Trump’s advisors. Just sayin’.

Insides the States

Additionally, there is often little concern about local governments with respect to the states.

Case in point: This year, a number of Republican-led legislatures had taken to pass “preemption laws,” by which they could undercut municipalities’ abilities to pass laws that are right for their residents, like minimum-wage laws or environmental regulations.

Where Would I Agree with the States’ Rights Doctrine?

Provided someone is speaking my language …

As It Pertains to Education

When asked about establishing federal education mandates, some will argue that, “no, states should be allowed to determine the curricular standards.”

Education should adhere to state standards, but only where appropriate. There should be the case for special courses that cover aspects of a state’s or city’s economy. For example, it would make since for students to be taught about farming in Iowa. It would make sense for students in New York to learn about real estate.

Beyond that, there should be federal mandates for education.

There really is no such mandate. It can be seen by some students who go to college unprepared. One young lady can be the valedictorian of her high school, but barely scrape by in a university.

Students need to have national standards. Allowing things like history books to be controlled regionally could lead to kids being misinformed when textbook creation is politicized. Students should be taught subjects like mathematics, English, and grammar at an acceptable level so they will be prepared for postsecondary education, should they pursue it, and expand their potential career paths.

As It Pertains to Drug Use

Now, there is a real case to be made for states’ rights here. It would certainly help if specific drugs were decriminalized on a federal level first, and it should be closely based on scientific and other applicable studies.

Drug regulations for recreational use should be decided at the state level. It should be based on a specific state’s needs. But you would be hard-pressed to find a politician who will support the states’ laws in this area.

Mention for example, consider marijuana, which is still a Schedule 1 drug. Colorado and Washington passed laws to legalize its recreational use in 2012. Four years later, it appears both states are doing fine with the legalization. We haven’t heard of increased accidents or violence due to the drug and millions of dollars were added to state coffers due to taxes and fees.

There are other states, like California, which have taken steps to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. As it is, certain narcotics are still illegal on the federal level. This means that law enforcement is in a conflict.  Marijuana dispensaries have opened up only to be immediately shut down.

In Terms of Gun Control

Here, we can really maximize checks and balances. And I can see a partnership between states and Congress to really come up with effective gun control legislation while making sure responsible owners get to keep their guns.

For starters, we need to build on the laws we have. On a federal level, assault gun bans should stay and there should be a nationwide mandate for background checks. Congress should also account for mental illness and have a real debate about a gun owner registry (for civilians … and police officers). Hey, the NRA has a gun registry, but that’s alright?

From there, I think states should be able to write their own laws according to their residents’ needs. But I would like to see some mechanism for training (proper gun handling and storage) in order to make sure citizens are safe.

An Overarching View

I would like share a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor when she was on the Supreme Court. As a dissenting Justice in the Gonzales v. Raich (2005).

We enforce the ‘outer limits’ of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority not for their own sake, but to protect historic spheres of state sovereignty from excessive federal encroachment and thereby to maintain the distribution of power fundamental to our federalist system of government … One of federalism’s chief virtues, of course, is that it promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that ‘a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.’

On one level, I agree with this quote. We should let states experiment with some policies to test the waters, like CO and WA are doing with marijuana.

On the other hand, there are some social issues that should not be decided by voters. And civil liberties should never be compromised.


Basically, I feel the states’ rights doctrine has been hijacked by craven, corrupt, and hypocritical politicians, organizations, and donors. There are valid arguments to support the doctrine by they are conspicuously ignored.

Whenever some federal laws favor the views of the same pundits, they have no problem enforcing them. And they would love to impose more laws that appeal to their own, their constituents’ or their donors’ ideologies.

Besides the areas I listed, you may also see this play out for two more areas I didn’t really talk about here. One is health care and the other will be the topic of the most difficult subject matter I have ever tackled.


Anderson, L., PharmD. “CSA Schedules.” Medically Reviewed on 4 May 2014. Web. <>.

Baum, Dan. “Legalize It All.” Harper’s Bazaar. Apr 2016. Web. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017.<>.

“Controlled Substances Act.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. United States Department of Justice. Web. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017. <>.

“Gonzales v. Raich.” Justia. Web. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017. <>.

Kleiner, Sam. “In Reversal, the NRA Embraces States’ Rights.” The Nation. 11 Feb 2013. Web. <>.

Palast, Greg. “The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters.” Rolling Stone. 24 Aug 2016. Web. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017. <>.

Pilgrim, David (Dr.). “Jim Crow Museum: Origins of Jim Crow.” Ferris State University. Sep 2000. Last Updated in 2012. Web. Retrieved 24 Jan 2017. <>.

“‘Segregation Forever’: A Fiery Pledge Forgiven, But Not Forgotten.” NPR. 10 Jan 2013. Web. <>.


15 thoughts on “Arguments That Give Me Pause: ‘States’ Rights!!!’

  1. I can only comment on the educational aspect because that is my area of expertise.

    All public schools study the history of their state in elementary school. (The children learn about the flora and fauna, the historical beginnings, early settlers and native people, and everything else about their state.

    Different counties may have a variety of different textbooks because texts are usually voted on by teachers after the school board narrows it down to 3-5 choices. Then there is a period of time for every school in the district to read and rate textbooks and then a district vote. That is how texts are selected.

    ALL states study American History. In most states it is first introduced in 5th grade, again in middle and again in high school.

    All states have state and national required educational standards (skills) they follow, which are available to see on line per state. Every state recognizes black history month in Feb. Women’s History month in March and so on.

    As a retired teacher who taught elem. school for 36 years, my 4th and 5th graders left my classroom knowing all about their state, their country, knowing all the Presidents, and being proficient in their knowledge of noteworthy women and minorities who contributed to our country.

    Teachers have state standards they MUST teach. How and why students don’t retain any of this is certainly an enigma.

    The majority of my former students still stay in contact with me through social media. I just got an email with a former student who worked at the WH. During the Obama ad. In his latest picture he was with Joe Biden by the WH Christmas tree. And then he thanked me for teaching him in 4th grade to start each day with current events.

    At some point, it is up to the educator to go above and beyond the state standards and continue to enlighten her/his students. Each state may require the minimum but a good teacher requires the maximum. We the people cannot become lazy.

    There are national and state standards for all schools around the country to follow. I have found that whenever my state, FL, has a Republican gov. Educational standards fall. And money is taken away from our schools. I shudder to think what will happen during the Trump regime. America needs to get smarter!

    If we drastically change learning standards and continue to deny science we will become a third world backward country. America will no longer exist. Ignorance, which in my opinion is what elected Trump, is going to become Europe during the dark ages. This will be the age of ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for giving me a teacher’s perspective on this.

      I remember first learning about American history when I was in the fifth grade. In the eighth grade, my class was taught about the Constitution.

      My 11th-grade U.S. History course was more comprehensive. My instructor gave us so many handouts and he said one of his former students kept them and was able to review them. That former student was able to find a job because of his U.S. History knowledge!

      Unfortunately, the handouts I had were basically stolen. 😦 But I would like to take some time every now and then to try to create my own so I could study them and retain more of that information.

      I have found that a good way to retain information is to find a way to use it and keep a record of it. That’s why I do a lot of the posts I do. I want to learn more about history (and appeal to current and former teachers, because I like their feedback).

      Regarding textbooks: I am worried about states like Texas where they can manufacture textbooks that actually misinform students and put negative slants on important Civil Rights Movement events and figures.

      There are national and state standards for all schools around the country to follow. I have found that whenever my state, FL, has a Republican gov. Educational standards fall. And money is taken away from our schools. I shudder to think what will happen during the Trump regime. America needs to get smarter!

      If we drastically change learning standards and continue to deny science we will become a third world backward country. America will no longer exist. Ignorance, which in my opinion is what elected Trump, is going to become Europe during the dark ages. This will be the age of ignorance.

      LOL, “Trump regime.” Whenever we use the term “regime,” we are usually saying a power structure is illegitimate. I understand how you feel. 😉

      I heard he does want to investigate voter fraud during the 2016 election, but he won’t like what he finds. As I said in this post, voter suppression is the real problem. Voter fraud isn’t a huge problem, but election fraud is. The latter is carried out by people in power.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it is scary to imagine that history can be deleted and changed by individual states. In the past that would be illegal in public schools.

    Private schools, I suppose can produce any material they like. (Ex. some religious schools write their own curriculum.) But public education MUST be backed up by data and history.

    Perhaps that is why Trump selected a Sec. of Education who not only isn’t an educator, but has no experience in public education. It is no secret he and the GOP are not a proponent of public education. Which is a shame.

    I taught gifted students (top 2 percent) and my classroom had an excellent reputation, so much so, that home schooled children and private school children, when they reached 4th grade would request to be put in my room. I found in EVERY single case that these students were behind what was being taught in the public schools.

    Home schooled children were behind socially and often had difficult interacting on group setting, some had problems with time management, and behind on a vast variety of subject matters, since many parents are not educators. (Not that the children weren’t gifted or extremely bright, but if children are not exposed to social settings and timed classes, specials where they go to art, music, PE etc., they have limited experience in an educational environment in which to draw from.)

    In every case, because state writing tests were not required in private schools, all those students were behind in their writing skills: vocabulary, sentence structure, word usage etc. Parents were very surprised and grateful that they put their children back into public schools. The progress they made was amazing. And it didn’t take them long.

    I wrote grants and was awarded grant money every year and so I created my own curriculum to teach the standards, (the schools had to allow that or they didn’t get the money) and thus I did not have to rely on state textbooks. Instead, my students were reading Shakespeare and performing his plays etc. I had the freedom to teach using my own resources.

    There are always ways if a teacher is clever. The basic standards are still taught, but students can learn anything if they are presented with great literature and knowledge in an exciting manner.

    I pray that Trump does not change the legalities of these books, which IS against the law. You cannot make up your own history. Now, it is true that much of history was left unsaid about minorities and that is why it is important to celebrate the diversities of Americans from all walks of life. I wrote a grant called “An American Celebration,” which targeted people from all walks of life. You do NOT need text books to teach history.

    I received money for writing the grant and bought a plethora of biographies on the elem. level which were used for their research, along with other sources they could find. I will have to see if I still have some photos on this laptop.

    Anyhow, I did my thing, and never worried about the consequences and the administration never did either since my scores were always high. Motivated happy children always do well and enjoy learning.

    “The truth shall set you free.” We must find the positives in this world and in our country, and teach that to our children.

    But, I must share this…. I worked with a man who was born in Germany and his education in that country, they had removed everything about the holocaust. (This was before social media). It wasn’t until he moved to America in high school that he knew what the Nazi’s did. Germany blocked that from their text books. You cannot fix or change hatred if you hide history and the past. He was so stunned to learn the truth that he became a history teacher.

    We must save our future by teaching the past.


    1. Oh my gosh, you are providing me with such wonderful insight!

      Perhaps that is why Trump selected a Sec. of Education who not only isn’t an educator, but has no experience in public education. It is no secret he and the GOP are not a proponent of public education. Which is a shame.

      Yeah, everybody that is part of this new team is either ignorant of or hostile toward the agency they are being nominated for. Sometimes, it’s both.

      • Ben Carson is openly hostile toward the mission of HUD.
      • Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma AG, has sued the Obama Administration and other states regarding environmental regulations, but he is up to head the EPA.
      • Rick Perry wanted to get rid of the Department of Energy, and he couldn’t remember the name of that department. Guess what he’s been nominated for?

      That is one of the cruelest jokes I have ever heard. This is going to be a rough 4 years.

      We really need people who are dedicated to the causes, like environmental health and justice, to lead these agencies. They’re too important.

      Yeah, I know about Germany. The country is so ashamed of its Holocaust past. But there is no point in avoiding the history.

      Look, I will admit the United States has a sordid history. I think FDR was one of the best presidents in our history, but I will not excuse what he did with the Japanese internment camps. That is part of our history and we must learn from it and refrain from doing anything let that again.

      “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

      💡 I will have to use that for a Famous Sayings pots, along with, “The truth shall set you free.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my! As I was reading your post, I keep thinking about the young people I judge at debate contests. Some are still in high school, while others compete on college teams. I wonder what they would bring to the table in the way of opinions and hopefully some of the same fine research you do?

    Sitting and just talking with the younger generations has often left me agog. They do have opinions about both state and national affairs, and even though they may only use technology to form them, they are still pretty interested, and interesting to listen to.

    Maybe, I’ll have an opportunity to simply ask a few of them their thoughts this year. I don’t know if the debates themselves will center around the topic you posted, but topics do bring all forms of government(s) to the table if they want me and other judges to vote for their Affirmative or Negative teams. I see and hear them talking among themselves in the halls. Yes, maybe I will ask!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be quite honest, this post was months (and years, actually) in the making. I long had a negative view on the issue of states’ rights because I automatically tied it to the Civil War and the Reconstruction period. As it turns out, those periods were a big part of the co-opting of the states’ right doctrine.

      But there are real arguments to support the separation of federal and state powers. Unfortunately, those who have the pulpit are not making the right arguments.

      About the debate teams: Sometimes, I was taken aback by how much my own classmates knew when I was in high school. I struggled to keep up. And kids get even smarter with each generation. I imagine those who are part of debate teams are at the top of their game.

      If you manage to talk to some of the people on the debate times, I hope you can share some of their insights.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Yes, It would be very interesting to speak to the young people you judge. Now that I am retired from teaching I help write curriculum for an after school Spoken Word Poetry program run by the Jason Taylor Foundation. It is called The Omari Hardwick bluapplePoetry Network. I also judge each year when they have their two week of poetry activities for “Louder Than A Bomb Florida” You can can hear what students think by listening to their poetry. I will try to post some for you. ( I will have to do it in another post) Keep in mind I taught elementary school and work with young students to teach beginning poetry skills. The high school and college students are extraordinary with their skills. America has many young people in this country to be proud of.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I think you will be blown away by these young people. This program is amazing. These students are express in words everything that is happening in our world. Please listen to the group finalists on this page. The local TV station covered it. I helped judge and was in tears hearing the passion coming from these kids. I am so proud to be a part of this program. When you work with students like this, you understand that we have much to fight for in education. And I am always inspired by these young men and women.

          Liked by 1 person

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