Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bill that would allow Terry Schiavo's parents to argue in federal court that their daughter's rights are being violated by having her feeding tube removed.
This case is so rare, strange, and sui generis that I don't think it's worth discussing much as a precedent in terms of medical ethics, euthanasia, etc. In fact, the House law (and its Senate counterpart) are specifically tailored to impact only the Schiavo case.
It's wider import? Quite possibly as yet another marker that discourse about federalism and proper limits to federal power more generally is just bullshit, situational ethics at its worst.
That helps explain why Republicans–whose entire rise to power was based upon rhetroic about devolving power and authority from Washington to state and local governments, to exhorting decentralized "laboratories of democracy," etc.–have consistently worked to augment the federal government since taking it over.
That helps to explain GOP policies such as federally prosecuting medical marijuana clubs that are legal under California state law; passing the No Child Left Behind Act, which centralizes educational policy in D.C.; pushing federal laws, if not Constitutional amendments to prohibit or invalidate gay marriage in individual states; calling Major League Baseball on Congress' carpet; etc.
And it helps to explain why the Dems, who prior to GOP control of Congress sung a very different tune, are now all of sudden upset at D.C. sticking its nose into every nook and cranny in the republic. As the Times reports:
"If we do not draw the line in the sand today, there's no telling what constitutional principles this Congress will trample next," said Rep. Jim Davis, [a] Florida Democrat who opposed the bill.
That's a fair (if slightly hyperbolic) question, but you've got to ask, Where were the Dems back when they had congressional majorities? Surely, they weren't asking that question.
As Arthur A. Ekirch wrote in his great The Decline of American Liberalism, the push and pull between what might be called state's rights and federal power is as old as the country itself (indeed, Ekirch argues that this dynamic between forces of centralization and decentralization was the defining attribute of the original British colonies).
The latest cycle kicked off in full with the contested 2000 election, where as a nation we witnessed the spectacle of Republicans running to the feds for a favorable ruling in Bush v. Gore and the Democrats insisting, no, no, this is a state matter.
For a longer look, check out this great (and controversial) book review by Contributing Editor Charles Oliver, which underscores that appeals to federalism have long been motivated not by principle but expediency.. In looking at The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina, by Manisha Sinha, he writes:
Sinha convincingly argues that Southern "states' rights" ideology was formed with the express purpose of defending slavery. Indeed, antebellum Southerners were quick to use national power, at the expense of states' rights, to defend slavery. From 1789 to 1860, the South dominated the national government, and the "Slave Power," as critics called it, readily used the federal government to protect and advance its interests.
Whole thing here.