ISSUES IN FOCUS

Week of January 4, 1999


ONE NECK, ONE NOOSE


There are times when it is important to comment on the obvious, especially when so many appear oblivious to the obvious and its meaning for the future.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist recently issued a warning about the proliferation of federal legislation intruding into areas previously reserved to the states.  "The trend to federalize crimes that traditionally have been handled by state courts…threatens to change entirely the nature of our federal system," Rehnquist declared.  The real nature of the threat to which Rehnquist refers is largely lost on most—and his warning will be quickly forgotten by all but a few, much to the peril of freedom’s future in America.

Rehnquist is only wrong about the tense of his verb, "threatens."  The change has already occurred and, if the current trend continues, it will get worse.   Today, there is not a single area of your life that cannot be touched by federal legislation and regulation.  What is to stop Congress from passing legislation about any aspect of your life, from restricting your freedom any way it wishes?  Nothing, except and until enough voters begin to protest at the ballot box.

One of the ironies of the aftermath of the Civil War was the fact that it laid the foundation for eliminating the free states to which many slaves escaped via the famous underground railroad, for eliminating the very freedom for which that war was fought.  The most important and significant consequence of the Civil War was not the fact that slavery was abolished, but the fact that it was the beginning of what was ultimately to become a virtually unlimited federal government, emasculating the power of states to oppose or escape any federal action.

Under the original federal system envisioned and created by the Founders, there was not only a balance of power among the three branches of the federal government, there was also a balance of power between the federal government and the various state governments.  The Tenth Amendment placed a check on federal power by reserving to the states all powers not specifically given to the federal government.  The Civil War effectively repealed the Tenth Amendment and set America on a path of explosive growth of the federal government—and that growth has been accelerating at a stunning pace in the last couple of decades.

State and local governments have effectively become administrative arms of the federal government, eliminating, for all practical purposes, any state from being a haven of freedom as some states were during the Civil War.  In a federation of free states, if the state you happen to live in goes bad and enacts oppressive legislation that deprives you of some of your freedom, you can vote with your feet: you can move across the state line to live in a state that protects your freedom.  Indeed this has already been done by many in parts of America.  There are those who live in New Hampshire, just across the state line, to avoid the burdensome taxes and regulations of Massachusetts.  A few years ago, California shot itself in the foot by enacting onerous environmental laws and raising taxes.  Many individuals and businesses left the state to the sanctuary of states such as Arizona and Utah, states that provided more freedom than California.

But under a system in which we increasingly see all laws dictated by Washington, it will bring a uniformity of law that will shut off, short of leaving the country, all of the escape routes.  Eventually, there will be no state to which you can flee that will provide you with more freedom than the state in which you currently live.  Every state will be the same, with each state as oppressive as the next, each reshaped by federal mandate into 50 identical tentacles standing ready to gradually squeeze the life out of your freedom if Washington so commands.

Before a country can be transformed into a totalitarian state, it must pass several markers on the road to the destruction of freedom.  One such milestone is the elimination of the rule of law for statist leaders, exempting them from its requirements.   We appear to be on the verge of establishing this precedent.  Another watershed event a country must pass through is the creation of the legal mechanism by which all are brought under a single authority, with no checks or balance against it—and this is going to be the end result of the gathering speed of Washington’s power grab.

The rush to the omnipotent and ubiquitous, solitary state can be stopped.  But if it is not, we will eventually reach the point in America where statist politicians will finally have what they so desperately desire: one neck for one noose.

Fulton Huxtable
January 4, 1999

Copyright 1999 Fulton Huxtable

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