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The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party

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States' Rights

Talking about Congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, Republican representative Christopher Shays of Conneticut said:

"My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing. ... This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy." (New York Times, March 23, 2005)

Recent Articles

Progressive Federalism Under Attack,, May 6, 2006

Scalia, States Rights, and "Legitimate Medical Procedures", Talk To Action, January 23, 2006

GOP Agenda vs. States' Rights, TruthOut, March, 2005

The Midnight Coup, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2005:

Conservatives are the historical defenders of states' rights, and the supposed proponents of keeping big government out of people's lives, but this case once again shows that some social conservatives are happy to see the federal government acquire Stalinist proportions when imposing their morality on the rest of the country. So breathtaking was this attempted usurpation of power, wresting jurisdiction over a right-to-die case away from Florida's judiciary, that Republican leaders in the end had to agree to limit this legislation's applicability to the Schiavo case.

Blueprint Calls for Bigger, More Powerful Government, Washington Post, February 9, 2005

REBELLION OF THE STATES, New York Times, January 16, 2005:

The mandates... emanating from Washington are coming not from big-government Democrats but conservative Republicans. And thanks to the party's successes in recent years, more of the state and local officials who are complaining about those actions are Republicans, too.

From Adam Cohen of the New York Times, December 14, 2004:

We take for granted today the idea that Congress can adopt a national minimum wage or require safety standards in factories. That's because the Supreme Court, in modern times, has always held that it can.

But the court once had a far more limited view of Congress's power. In the early 1900's, justices routinely struck down laws protecting workers and discouraging child labor. The court reversed itself starting in 1937...

States' Rights Turned Upside Down

There is an inconsistency from leaders of the Religious Right between a belief in states' rights, or minimal federal government, and a drive for control and domination of a nation. As a member of the Federalist Society and leader of the Religious Right, former Attorney General John Ashcroft espoused the value of states' rights. His effort to overturn the state of Oregon 's Death with Dignity Law, however, demonstrates how quickly he will intervene in a State's democratically legislated law when this law conflicts with his religious beliefs. Under Ashcroft's leadership, much of the work of the Justice Department was focused on intervening in state laws.

Fighting Oregon 's Death with Dignity Law

In his zeal to stop assisted suicide, Mr. Ashcroft, a self-described legal conservative, turned his back on two principles that are sacred to legal conservativism. First, he refused to strictly, or even accurately, construe a Congressional statute. Instead, he inserted meaning in it that did not belong there, giving himself power that he should not have had. Second, he ignored conservative dogma about deference to the states, especially on matters like regulating medical practice, a core state concern. more

Mr. Ashcroft and other critics have so far lost in their efforts, in the courts and in Congress, to block the Oregon law. But instead of moving on and letting Oregon proceed with its path breaking experiment, the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court for a new hearing. (NYTimes , Choosing Death, July14, 2004)

From the Washington Post, October 6, 2005, referring to the Supreme Court Bush administration challenge to Oregon's Death with Dignity Law:

Roberts's questioning provided the first hints, however tentative, of his views on end-of-life issues. They could also imply a difference on federalism between Roberts and the man he succeeded, William H. Rehnquist. Last term, Rehnquist was one of three justices who voted, on grounds of states' rights, to let California uphold its legalization of homegrown "medical marijuana" -- notwithstanding a federal ban. But Roberts sounded yesterday like a supporter of federal authority.

Opposing California's Medical Marijuana Law

From the New York Times, February 1, 2003:

A federal jury today found the author of marijuana books and advice columns, Ed Rosenthal, guilty of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy. '"What the federal government is trying to do is destroy Prop 215 and eliminate medical marijuana from California," Mr. Rosenthal said.

Demanding Harsher Prison Terms

From "Rethinking the Key Thrown Away," New York Times, Sept. 28, 2003:

As the Ashcroft Justice Department demands the harshest prison terms and goes out of its way to track federal judges who do not give them, state lawmakers are openly advocating less time for the same crime and giving judges more discretion in choosing punishments.

Seeking The Death Penalty

From the New York Times, February 7, 2003:

Attorney General John Ashcroft has directed federal prosecutors in New York and Connecticut to seek the death penalty in a dozen cases in which they had recommended lesser sentences. Mr. Ashcroft's orders are a triumph of ideology over good prosecutorial practice.

Opposing Stronger Emission Standards

The Bush administration joined in a lawsuit to prevent the state of California from setting its own automobile emission standards because California's standards are tougher than those of the federal government. It appears that states' rights apply when the federal government imposes regulations on corporations, or upholds the separation of church and state. When states attempt to address problems of pollution or global warming, then "states' rights" are not applicable.

From the Natural Resources Defense Council:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard oral arguments today in a case pitting Detroit automakers and the Bush administration against California's Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program. The auto industry's legal challenge is the latest chapter in a sordid story of resistance to California's clean air rules, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The group said the federal government's siding with Detroit is an unprecedented attack on California's legal right to regulate air pollution.

Joining in Local Zoning Disputes

A Christian nondenominational Church on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Hale O Kaula, wanted to build a proper sanctuary, but the Maui Planning Commission, citing traffic and safety concerns, turned it down. In response, the church sued. From the New York Times:

Ordinarily, a local zoning dispute would hardly seem likely to attract the attention of the authorities in Washington. But the Justice Department's civil rights division has weighed in, accusing Maui County of religious discrimination and threatening a lawsuit of its own that would be the first brought by the government under a 2000 law that was intended in part to give churches a leg up in many zoning battles.

The Supreme Court

Washington Post, July 13, 2004:

ONLY A FEW years ago, the Supreme Court appeared to be on the verge of gravely altering the balance of power between the federal government and the states. A string of opinions had restrained Congress's authority and bolstered state power in a fashion that, while appealing in certain areas, was badly off-base and dangerous in others. What made the court's newfound interest in what is called "federalism" scary was that nobody knew where it would stop. And if taken too far, the reinvigoration of state-level power threatened to encumber the federal government in such critical areas as civil rights and environmental protection.

But over the past year, the court has handed down a series of rulings that seem to indicate the limits of its enthusiasm for pumping up state authority.

The Environment

From the Los Angeles Times: by staff writer, Elizabeth Shorgun:

No recent president has been quicker than George W. Bush to embrace the virtues of state and local control. But when it comes to the environment, William Becker discovered, that commitment can evaporate when state regulation would be tougher on industry than federal rules.

Becker, who represents administrators of state air-pollution programs in Washington, met with White House officials last month to appeal to them not to weaken the Clean Air Act.

He used the administration's own rhetoric about the value of local decision making to support his case. Surely, he said, the administration would not stand in the way of states that wanted to enforce tougher clean-air rules on utilities and major polluters.


"My argument was totally ignored," said Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Assn. of Local Air Pollution Control Officials. "They talk about states' rights, but they take away key tools states have needed to clean up the air."

Becker's experience reflects a pattern apparent throughout the Bush administration's implementation of environmental policy, according to state officials and environmental activists. When state and local interests collide with what industry wants, these activists and officials say, the administration has tossed its states' rights ideology out the window. "We've seen a dramatic curtailment of states' rights," Becker said.

"The States' Rights Principle" by Gene Karpinski, Executive Director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group:

"The record shows that the Bush administration trumpets states' rights when strong federal law displeases its campaign contributors but quickly and conveniently abandons this principle when the interests of its corporate cronies are threatened by state governments acting to safeguard the environment and consumers."

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Last updated: May-2006