Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, March 02, 2006

State's Rights

Was an easy concept to reject back in the days of George Wallace, Orval Faubus and the like. It was no more than code for the cruel and inhumane treatment of large portions of the state's population. The feds, however, wanted to eliminate those injustices. Equity favored federal power, so even if we stretched federal power beyond what the constitution envisions, that was o.k.

They say hard facts make bad law, and maybe we are finding that out now. It seems like every new use of federal power is to diminish people's protections and freedoms. This story, describing a new law that would prohibit states from enforcing food labeling laws that are tougher than the fed's, brought this to mind. But I am also thinking about last year's medical marijuana case. Walter Cronkite summarizes the situation:

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.

These were not renegade doctors; they were acting according to the laws of their state. The state, through its democratically elected legislature had o.k.'d the use of marijuana for certain medical procedures. Alabama, to its credit, recognized that this was a state issue and that the federal government should not have intervened.

But protecting people is no longer the mission of the federal government. That would not be so bad, if, when it was protecting people we had not given it so much power. Because we let it extend its reach into our states, the federal government can now not only refuse to protect people, but also prohibit states from doing so.