Thursday, April 20, 2006

SCOTUS and Flip-Flopping on States Rights

The Rehnquist-Roberts courts' flip-flopping on states' rights over the last few years is enough to give you whiplash.

What is states' rights?
States' rights is the concept that the states possess certain rights and political powers. These rights and powers are memorialized in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and are usually used to defend a state law that the federal goverment wants to override or a perceived violation of the limits of federal authority.
Don't get me wrong, states' rights is an enormously complicated issue that practically brought the infant American republic to its knees, sundered it before and during the Civil War and has been debated endlessly before every Supreme Court since John Marshall, the third chief justice, argued that federal powers trumped state powers.

The whiplash is a result of the crass inconsistency of the Rehnquist court and now the Roberts court and reflects its politicization (something that righteous conservatives claim only liberal justices are responsible for) as it marches further to the right.

A notable recent flip in this perverse flip-flop dynamic was last year's California medical marijuana case. By a narrow margin, the high court ruled that federal drug law trumped California's right -- as approved by its voters in a referendum -- to allow a mere handful of its citizens the right to use marijuana to ease their suffering.

A notable flop came this week in an Arizona case pertaining to what a state needs to do to allow criminal defense lawyers for a crazy client to mount a defense. In this instance the justices left the clear impression that they doesn't want to limit the state's options by imposing a uniform definition of insanity -- as opposed to a uniform imposition of federal drug law on a bunch of hapless cancer victims in California.

Flip. Flop. See what I mean?

SCOTUSblog has more on the Arizona case here. Scroll down to a post headlined "Analysis: A focus on intent".

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