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State sovereignty does not equal liberty

KrisAnne Hall promotes the argument that, “If the states are not sovereign, your Constitution does not exist” (The Union, Oct. 7). This seems to be no more than an example of overly-simplistic rhetoric. She and the conservative “strict” constitutionalists fail to recognize several points …

• The debate about states’ rights has been a primary political discussion since the inception of the United States. One can find literally hundreds of articles and books on both sides of this issue. It is not as simple as some would like to make it. Not even the Founding Fathers were in complete agreement about what it should mean.

• Some 225 years of court decisions have established the supremacy of the federal government over the states. The Supreme Court continues to determine whether the laws they pass are constitutional. The states and the people always have the legal right to challenge those.



• Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the right, “To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union…” (think of Kennedy calling out the National Guard to integrate the University of Alabama). If the federal government can constitutionally use force to implement federal laws in the states, it does not seem that the states are sovereign — at least not in the sense of a national sovereignty. It might be best to think of states as autonomous regions within the federal structure.

• It has long been established that the People are first of all citizens of the United States and no state can impose laws on its own citizens that are in violation of federal law. Again, federal law is supreme.




• The only states that existed at the time of ratification were the original 13 states. The rest of our country was either purchased or taken by war/treaty through the power of the federal government. The new states, their names and their borders were set by Congress. It could be argued that any state that was “admitted to the union” was given this status as a privilege and honor and — other that the original 13 — the states and the rights/benefits they enjoy exist solely through the authority of the federal government.

• It has been the power of a strong central government that has placed the United States in its position as, arguably, the most powerful nation on the planet. Raising state sovereignty to supremacy could easily weaken us as a nation as individual states assert their independence and unique cultural perspectives. The resulting changes to our globalized world can only be imagined.

Ms. Hall also says. “We need some people who will put liberty first.” Based on the article, it would seem that she equates liberty with state sovereignty. So, if states were sovereign … would African Americans ever have received their freedom in the South or had their right to vote protected or access to equal education? Would Native Americans have even less land and autonomy than the meager reservations and rights they have now? Would gays and lesbians be on the brink of receiving full and equal recognition of their familial relationships? Would any of these groups think that elevating the supremacy of the states is really standing up for their liberty?!

One of the great benefits of a strong central government, despite its flaws, has been the protection of the rights and liberties of minorities — something history has shown the states failing to do. From my perspective, individual liberty of the People is primary and supersedes even the rights of the states. In most cases, it has been a strong central government that has protected that.

Paul Boisvert lives in Alta Sierra.


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