The framers of our second constitution in 1787, as they did in their previous Articles of Confederation, clearly intended to protect their States, and their citizens, from an oppressive central government like the one they had just freed themselves from. And in no way would they have wanted a federal agent intruding into State domains and forced compliance with regulations formulated by distant bureaucrats. With an all-powerful federal bureaucracy emerging victorious in 1865, no State – North or South – could dare challenge the federal interpretation of the Constitution or what passed for federal law.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circ a1865.com
Judicial Overthrow of State Governments
“Two hundred and eight years ago, when the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, there was general agreement with its text: “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.”
Two hundred and eight years ago, Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their States first, and only secondarily as citizens of a national federation. Now it is unclear that most Americans are aware of the Tenth Amendment, let alone the principle that the federal government is supposed to be one of limited and enumerated powers.
How did we come to this pass? Is there any hope that the federal courts will once again read the Constitution and, at least to the extent implied by that document, resurrect something of the doctrine of States’ rights? [Even] Washington, Hamilton and Madison would have been astonished at present-day incursions of the central government and its courts.
Passed after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was originally designed to allow newly freed blacks to own property and to make contracts. But it became a tool, in the hands of mid-20th century federal courts, to impose a centralized, secularized and egalitarian social system on the entire nation.
Federal judges began to read the 14th Amendment provisions that no State should be permitted to deprive any person of the “equal protection of the laws” nor to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without “due process” as a license to turn the restrictions of the Bill of Rights against the States and to set up strict rules about which State policies were permissible and which were not.
With the scantiest evidence, and in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary, the Supreme Court declared that the 14th Amendment was designed to “incorporate” at least some, and perhaps all, of the protections of the Bill of Rights against State governments.
There is no doubt that the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, had been drafted in the late 18th century in order to reassure the proponents of strong State governments that the federal government would not infringe on the sovereignty of the States or their people. Without even acknowledging the usurpation, the federal courts turned the Bill of Rights into a tool to reduce radically the discretion of the State governments.
The First Amendment clearly provides, for example, that “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech . . . or regarding an establishment of religion,” but the congressional prohibition was soon read – blatantly contrary to the intention of the frames of the Bill of Rights, if not the framers of the 14th Amendment itself – to extend to State legislatures and officials as well.
It may be too late to save State sovereignty and the original intention of the Constitution. A slew of bold supreme Court appointments by a conservative Republican president might help, but so far only Justices Thomas and Scalia, and occasionally Justice Rehnquist, have acknowledged that the Court has been operating for one or two generations in clearly unconstitutional territory.”
(Sisyphus and States’ Rights, Stephen B. Presser; Chronicles, April 1999, excerpt, pg. 13-14)