James Madison, America’s 4th president, is described as “Father” of our Constitution. Central to the Constitutional Convention, he distilled 60 amendments into 10, our Bill of Rights. If he were alive today, he would be worried – because “federalism” (the idea of a federal union that leaves important rights to “the States” and “the People”) is being killed by those centralizing power, such as Biden-Harris.
No greater authority on “federalism” exists than Madison. He understood that national crises – especially a war – could require temporary coordination by the federal government but urged complete return of rights to States – and the People – in peacetime.
Famously, he observed “operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments in times of peace and security.” Like all Framers, he knew – borrowing from Francis Bacon – “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” They all – every single one – feared federal power.
Not surprisingly, knowing human nature, they inserted the 10th Amendment. Prescient, sobering, echoing loudly now, it reads: “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.” In other words, federal power is strictly limited – and must always remain so.
Only it has not remained so. It has grown, at first slowly, then with protective intent after the Civil War, during World Wars I and II, during the Great Depression, civil rights fights, and – since the 1990s, especially following the attacks on 9-11 – with accelerating tempo.
The real question is – what is the proper balance between federal and states’ rights, in a Republic responsible to “We, the People”? The right answer is – while preserving individual liberties and equal protection under our Constitution – we must go back to Madison, the 10th Amendment, and understanding why rights not given to big government, belong to the States and People.
Here is why: States are closer to “We, the People.” State leaders – like local leaders – are more immediately accountable for screw-ups, like defunding police, spikes in crime, endangering human life, liberty, and property, stopping commerce, putting people out of jobs and business, keeping kids from school, raising domestic abuse, depression, drug use and suicides.
Beyond COVID and election shenanigans, the idea is State and local leaders make decisions for which they can be held accountable. State and local leaders are currently answering to enraged, bankrupted, unemployed, socially, culturally, and professionally impaired citizens – who see hypocrisy, recklessness, and constitutionally-objectionable behavior – and want it corrected.
Church, civic and business leaders are demanding changes to State and local policies restricting worship, assembly, travel, crime, and commerce – in some cases supported by the US Supreme Court – while some state leaders, like the Governor of California, are facing a recall.
In short, accountability is higher at the State and local level, which is one reason why Madison and Framers crafted the 10th Amendment. The other is unvarnished fear of concentrated power, the ability of a runaway, unaccountable Federal Government to crush individual rights.
That brings us to the nub. Where President Trump refused to use federal mandates, federal regulatory, civil or criminal penalties to demand citizens wear masks, abide lockdowns, sacrifice constitutional rights, not assemble, travel, worship, or live freely, Biden-Harris is chomping at the bit to use federal powers – against individuals and to override State federalism powers.
That is where we are. Federalism in Madison’s day was a force to behold. States were given wide latitude – accountable to their People – in setting policies, enforcing laws, challenging, and protecting individual liberties. Over time, the idea separate State and Federal powers, a “layering” of the cake, evolved into a mishmash of shared powers, roughly understood.
Today, the threat is that State power to control basic policies, destiny of their own citizens, public safety, commerce, capacity to survive, and balance of health risks – is on the verge of being taken over by a power-centric Biden-Harris administration, telling us what they mandate.
Bottom line: Citizens need to be aware of their rights – and speak for them. A new majority on the US Supreme Court has defended free speech, worship, assembly, commerce, self-defense, and – by implication – the 10th Amendment. But citizens must speak up.
If Republicans hold the Senate, they can block concentrated power under Biden-Harris. Still, we live in times that would shock Madison – because his labors to protect individual liberty, assure accountability, limit abuse, and preserve God-given rights to the People – held in trust by the States, are under direct fire. Is this the end of “federalism?” In short: Not if we defend it.