Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kind of Big News That's Not Getting Around

The Supreme Court has decided not to review a case where the California courts ruled that the state laws on medical marijuana could not be ignored by local law enforcement in favor of the federal laws. In other words - state law trumps federal law for local cops. 

This is pretty big news. This sets as a precedent the notion that state law has a higher authority than federal law in certain circumstances. This is the closest we've ever come to taking a step back towards the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Typically, federal law always trumps local and state law, and practically that hasn't really changed here. What has changed is that local and state law enforcement agents (in California- though the precedent could be used in other states) are not allowed to spend there time pursuing, arresting, and prosecuting cases where the state law has the act as legal and federal law has it as illegal. This still would allow federal law enforcement (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, ABC, EFG, HIJ...) the ability to go after these individuals under federal law, but draws a line in the sand for the local cops. 

This, despite of what I'm sure is a resounding protest from social conservatives, is what you get with a fairly Republican Supreme Court from the Reganish years. State's rights matter and should be encouraged while trying to shrink the federal government. The problem for them is that a lot of states are then going to do things that they don't like. Hence the current Republican federal government's confused position of not liking the federal government and yet expanding it uncontrollably because the state's didn't line up the way they thought they would. 

I think this stems from a current talking point that has been percolating since the Gringrich Republican revolution in 1996: the country is center right. And to listen to any news or any pundit on either side of the aisle you'll hear this phrase pop up. When you hear a phrase uttered enough you start to believe it, especially if you already want to believe that to be true as many Republicans do. (See my post on Confirmation Bias) And you may even be able to take polls that ask the American publics where they see themselves and since they have also heard this trumpeted around they will check off the box "center right." Do you see the problem yet?

Just because you might call yourself "center right" or check off that box in a poll, does not mean you actually are center right when you look at the specific issues. As an example, several years ago I helped run an experiment of which one part was to ask students where they felt they fell on a political spectrum and then asked them to fill out a questionnaire on specific issues that would the give a placement of their political views along the same axis they labeled themselves on. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Sure enough the majority of students rated themselves as slightly conservative, or center right, but as soon as where they actually stood on the issues was scored, the majority was center left. 

If anything even close to this holds true throughout the nation, and it probably does though a better chosen population for such a study would make for a better study, then we can see the Republican's dilemma. They think the country is at least leaning towards their side, and yet when specific issues arise, such as the legalization of wacky tobaccy, they are confused by where the public opinion, and so certain laws, goes. The results are that the very things they supposedly want to accomplish, such as a smaller federal government and more state's rights, end up thwarting the realization of many of their key social conservative issues.  

The Rational Moderate

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