Take your pick on when it started, but federal control continues to bleed into state and local affairs in direct contradiction with the Constitution. Some examples are obvious and others more nuanced, but together they are diluting the federalist model by breaking down the checks and balances our nation’s founders set up to rein in government. After all, they remembered all too well how the reach of King George could sterilize a society.
The National Labor Relations Board’s effort to prevent Boeing from manufacturing in North Charleston is the latest case of the federal government trying to big-foot South Carolina out of the way. The board only backed down when it had secured construction of planes at Boeing’s plant in Washington State, and not South Carolina. This maneuvering is no surprise: There is no money for union bosses in a right-to-work state.
The Obama Department of Education refuses to be outdone by its comrades at the labor board. The Department’s Race to the Top initiative, which disperses dollars to states based on acceptance of a standards and assessment system for every public school, is a federal takeover of education plain and simple. Through the strings attached, Race to the Top enables the Education Department to channel government-preferred content into the classroom, turning the idea of parental, local and state control of education on its head. Gov. Nikki Haley and Education Superintendent Mick Zais should be commended for seeing the program for what it is and rejecting the funding.
The federal government’s unbridled spending is a more subtle attack on our rights as South Carolinians to be secure in our property and freedoms. In the past few years, it has become apparent what is standing behind the spending binge: the federal debt-based paper dollar. Without any independent value such as gold to anchor our currency, the Federal Reserve has complete discretion to print money to throw at anything it deems worthy, such as chronic congressional deficit spending. The Fed, an institution that was created in 1913 to administer the banking system under the gold standard, now has carte blanche over the nation’s monetary policy and is the bailout artist for big government.
Hardly anyone knew that the states could do anything about the government’s spending spree until Utah officials rediscovered state monetary authority in Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution. Utah’s legislature earlier this year took the first step in offering citizens a hard-money alternative to paper dollars, by passing a law declaring gold and silver coins legal tender in the state. South Carolina has a similar bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pitts, that can be passed in 2012. Monetary policy, following the pushback on labor and education intervention, is the new opportunity for South Carolina to act against federal overreach.
There are still other areas of life where Washington has lost any sense of self control. Property rights, for instance, have been under greater threat in recent years due to the widespread abuse of eminent domain: Should the federal government really be able to take someone’s property just because there is habitat on it that could be used by an unknown species of animal or plant?
The national revival of interest in a balanced budget, freedom to choose our doctors and property rights provides a glimmer of hope to those of us bound and determined to live with less interference in our lives from others who “know best.” A fresh look at the 10th Amendment by politicians and voters alike is an inspiring trend. It is happening here in South Carolina, too, as there is a visible groundswell of support for turning things around on issues such as education, money and regulatory policy. When the General Assembly reconvenes next week, it should look to magnify the constitutional line between the federal government and the states that is crucial to preserving our republic.
Ethan Ware chairs the McNair Law Firm’s environmental regulatory practice group in Columbia, SC and is an advisory board member of the American Principles Project’s work in South Carolina