Federal Overstepping

The 10th amendment to the United States Constitution says that "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." During the last few decades, as the federal government has grown by leaps and bounds, this constitutional provision has often been given short shrift. Some argue this was the case, for example, when Congress created the Department of Education in 1978. Since the flood of Great Society legislation in the 1960s, the tide has gradually shifted in the other direction. Yet members of both parties still have a tendency to propose federal "solutions" to problems rightly left to the states. Nowhere is this more evident than in the federalization of criminal law. Time and again, often in response to crime headlines, members have rushed to make a federal offense of acts clearly and properly dealt with by state law. Chief Justice William Rehnquist called attention to this phenomenon in his annual year-end report on the state of the judiciary. Pressure to "appear responsive to every highly publicized societal ill or sensational crime" must be balanced against whether states can handle the problem. The chief justice points to a 1994 law that allows federal prosecution of a series of arson crimes. He also complained about 1992 laws regarding carjacking and child support. One more-recent example is the clamor for additional federal "hate crimes" legislation following the brutal slaying in Wyoming of Matthew Shepard, apparently because he was gay. There can be no excuse for nor toleration of what happened to Mr. Shepard. But state law is perfectly capable of dealing with a murder case. Another is President Clinton's call for a federal law against child abuse. The states have shown themselves no slouches here - in several cases involving day-care centers they have been overzealous to the point of injustice. There is little reason to make child abuse a federal crime, except perhaps in cases where a child is transported across state lines for the purpose of exploitation or evading detection of abuse. Federal law enforcement resources must be devoted to problems that states can't deal with on their own, such as organized crime, illegal drugs, terrorism, immigrant smuggling, and child pornography. No matter how good the intention, there is rarely a need to duplicate state and local criminal laws in other areas.

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