States rebel against Washington
The pushback against federal power began under Bush, but may now be accelerating.
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•The Idaho House began considering Wednesday a law against introducing "vicious animals" into the state – a direct rebuttal of the federal wolf reintroduction program.
•Montana and Tennessee have introduced proposals to expand gun rights. Tennessee State Sen. Doug Jackson says his bill to ban proposed federal "microstamping" of ammunition could spark a movement. "The trampling on our rights to possess firearms is symbolic of a power grab by the federal government on a much larger scale," said Senator Jackson, by phone from Nashville.
•Oklahoma and Georgia are both considering limits on stem cell research in response to Mr. Obama's reversal of the federal stem cell ban. It's the flip side of the Bush era when several Northeastern states allowed such research despite the federal ban.
The status of "state sovereignty" resolutions are largely up in the air, with a few passed, some moving through committee, and some voted down. New Hampshire's resolution, the only one with a "nullification" of the Union clause, was voted down largely along partisan lines.
A response to federal expansion
Although the idea of states' rights took hold in the run-up to the Civil War in order for the South to preserve, among other things, the institution of slavery, today's debates are really about whether there's any power left for the states to carve out of the Constitution.
"If you set up the principle where the federal government can do everything, then, yes, eventually they will do everything. If not, where's the line they can't cross?" says Michael Boldin, president of the Tenth Amendment Center in Los Angeles. "That's the Constitution, I believe."
The courts mainly stood by as federal power expanded by great leaps in the 1930s and the 1960s. There's been another burst of federal expansion in the 2000s, including Mr. Bush's USA Patriot Act and Obama's proposed overhaul of banking regulations.
The fact is, "there's no longer any effective limitations on federal power," says Randy Barnett, a Georgetown law professor who argued for California's medical marijuana law in front of the Supreme Court.
Yet the state sovereignty movement is by no means frivolous and could have significant political firepower. The medical marijuana case in California, for instance, showed that Washington can be forced to scale back its ambitions in the face of populist sentiment.
And although Pitts hails from Abbeville, the place where the South's first secession votes were cast, he insists that today's efforts to check federal power aren't limited to regional pockets or even political affiliation. "The mainstream media would portray some of us as rednecks, whether we're from Pennsylvania, Oregon, or South Carolina," says Pitts. "But this is a wake-up call. And if Washington doesn't heed that wake-up call, revolution is on the horizon."