States Rights vs National Government Term Paper

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National laws formulated and implemented by the federal government have often been criticized for their centralizing effect and for restraining/restricting the power of state laws. In a republican form of government, state laws have enormous significance as this form of government allows "people . . . To pass their own laws in virtue of the legislative power reposed in representative bodies, whose legitimate acts may be said to be those of the people themselves." [1] Deborah Merritt, Ohio State University law professor, has often been cited in Court rulings for her discussion of relationship between federal and state laws. Merritt notes that "since at least the eighteenth century, political thinkers have stressed that republican government is one in which the people control their rulers." [2].

United States is a prime example of this form of government since the Constitution allows states to make its own local laws which need not be burdened by federal laws. The federal government has restricted powers in connection with state laws and any national laws that override or obliterate the exercise of state laws can be challenged in the court of law as Professor Merritt further explains:

'federal attempts to appropriate state governmental resources in this manner deny the states a republican form of government . . . If the national government compels the states to enforce federal regulatory programs, state budgets and executive resources reflect federal priorities rather than the wishes of local citizens. These results are antithetical to the popular control exerted in a republican form of government If the federal government could order states to implement federal programs, the state power to tax would be dissociated from the power to spend, and "would encourage few even casually acquainted with the writings of Montesquieu and the Federalist Papers to assert that the States enjoyed a Republican Form of Government . . . ." [3]

While ideally Congress cannot burden the state laws with federal laws, there have been many instances when Congressional acts tried to override state-granted rights or local laws. Most of these actions have originated under the interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution that grants Congress power to "regulate Commerce . . . among the several States." [4] The latest and very important case in this connection was the Printz v. United States case of 1996 in which Montana Sheriff Jay Printz and Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack together with others, sued the Brady Act of 1993. According to this legislation, state and local sheriff and law enforcement personnel were required to perform background checks on prospective buyers of firearm. The sheriffs challenged the Act saying that it interfered with their state-established responsibilities since it required extensive work since it required "research in whatever State and local recordkeeping systems are available."[5]

Printz case was closely concerned with the Tenth Amendment that reserves state powers and with the Republican Form of Government clause in Article IV of the Constitution. This clause explicitly calls for establishment of a republican form of government in every state. As we mentioned above, ion a republican form of government state and local laws have more immediate role to play than federal laws. The Brady Act was based on interstate commerce clause. This debatable and controversial clause allows the Congress to regulate interstate commerce, however in Printz, it was proved that the clause could not be applied since Congress does not have power to regulate the regulation system of interstate commerce. The Brady Act was removed in a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in 1996. Had it been allowed to exist, Brady Act could expand Congressional authority and "would effectually obliterated the distinction between what is national and what is local and create a completely centralized government." [6] While this clause may be applied in some situations, there is no fixed route by which states should impose it. "The allocation of power contained in the Commerce Clause, for example, authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce directly; it does not authorize Congress to regulate state governments' regulation of interstate commerce." [7]

Printz case called into question the scope of Congressional authority, implementation of Bill of Rights, the interstate commerce clause and above all, civil liberties granted by the constitution. It must be borne in mind that the precise reason why Brady Act was challenged was because it obliterated and overrode state rights and laws. It is due to these actions that civil liberties are gradually…

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