As for abortion, Perry said that the role of the states is to discourage it “until we pass that life amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Labor law, however, should be left to the states.
Bachmann truly seemed not to have given a thought to federalism before Saturday night. Why, Pruitt asked, had she previously said that states could not constitutionally have individual mandate programs either? “It goes back to that liberty interest that each of us has, and there can be reasonable difference about that,” she said. Could states — as Oklahoma and Virginia have done — pass statutes blocking the Affordable Care Act? “The federal-government Obamacare bill will trump the state statutes,” Bachmann replied. “It is the law of the land right now.”
As for immigration, Bachmann said, under Article I § 8 of the Constitution “a specific enumerated power is the government needs to deal with the border.” (I’m still scratching my head about which “specific” textual power she means.) “It’s not the states’ role.” Cuccinelli asked about S.B. 197, which would use the commerce power to override state tort laws and court procedures in medical malpractice cases. Her response: “I support tort reform absolutely.” Asked which Supreme Court decision (“other than Roe v. Wade”) of the past 50 years she most dislikes, she answered Kelo v. City of New London — a case that, however unpopular, left the issue of eminent domain to the states rather than federalizing it.
Paul fended off Pruitt, who, as the attorney general of the state where the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, asked for an alternative to the Patriot Act. “There’s nothing in our Constitution that says violent acts should be a prerogative of our Constitution,” he said. Paul said that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security were all unconstitutional, but should be phased out slowly. (This riled Cuccinelli: “Why would you sign a budget that contains something unconstitutional?” Paul answered, in effect, Be patient, sonny.) Asked whether he opposed any amendments to the Constitution, the congressman wisely cited the 18th, already repealed.
Romney had almost nothing to say about states. “We need to have a federal government that sees its job as helping the private sector grow and thrive and add jobs” — a role that sounds like “picking winners and losers” to me. He said he still supports part of No Child Left Behind since “the federal government has a role to stand up to the federal teacher’s unions” (not clear what “federal teachers’ unions” are). Romney judges would “protect the Constitution and follow the Constitution as it was written and intended and the law of Congress as it was written and intended, rather than have the Supreme Court see its role as spring from or departing from the Constitution to impose their views.” No mention of pro-state views in that answer. Should we get rid of federal labor law (another Cuccinelli cause)? “I would not propose getting rid of all federal labor law, but I do say we have to rein in the power of the National Labor Relations Board.”
In their final statements, neither Gingrich, Romney, Perry, Bachmann, nor Santorum found a kind word for the states. Paul, however, went into an aria of anti-federalist rhetoric. “One issue we have to revisit, because the Founders understood it but we have forgotten about it, and that is the principle of nullification. If the federal government won’t respond … the states have to be able to nullify this. This would reverse the trend and this would stop the usurpation of all the powers and privileges from the states to the federal government.”
So, true-blue (“true red,” I suppose) “states’ righters,” you face an unappetizing choice. The only two candidates who really understand your issue are supremely unlikely to win the nomination. Meanwhile, the two leading candidates against Obama clearly have no plan to give back any federal power, and one (Gingrich) seems to be itching to expand it.
That is how American history runs. “States’ rights” are important to the party out of power; but power flows to Washington because the voters want it there. 2012, whatever else it brings, will probably not prove an exception to that rule.