Mike Lee

States Should Decide

Sen. Mike Lee on conservatives, libertarians, and why the feds should let states make their own rules.


Sen. Mike Lee

Since 2011, Republican Mike Lee has served as the junior senator from Utah. During that time he's made a name for himself as one of the more libertarian-spirited members of The World's Greatest Deliberative Body. He's been critical of both Democrats and Republicans, but he's also been constructive, proposing more oversight on federal surveillance activities as well as innovative tax reform plans. In June, Reason TV's Nick Gillespie spoke with Lee about conservatives, libertarians, and why the feds should let states make their own rules. To watch the full interview, go here or view it below.

Q: You take aim at a lot of Republican policy mistakes as well as Democratic ones. Do you see the Obama administration as a continuation of the George Bush years in terms of growing government interference in the economy, reckless foreign policy, and reckless disregard for Americans' civil liberties?

A: I would certainly say that civil liberties have suffered under this administration. I think we've seen more government surveillance in this administration, and I think it's troubling to a lot of Americans. I voted against the reauthorization of the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Amendments Act [in 2008], and I did so at a time when there were very few Republicans willing to do that.

Q: Do you primarily identify as a conservative rather than a libertarian? And is that a meaningful distinction to you?

A: Generally I call myself a conservative, sometimes a constitutional conservative. My focus is on the fact that when we maintain a consistent effort to restrain the government's power and influence to those powers identified in the Constitution, that's where we strike the right balance between what kind of government we need and what kind of government we don't want.

Q: Talk a little bit about your federalism. For instance, recently you said that the definition of marriage should be remanded to the states or lower levels of government.

A: It's not that it should be remanded to the states. It's that that's a state power. It always was state power. It never was or should be federal.

Q: What about things like drug policy, or online gambling? You recently introduced a law saying that the federal government should dictate online gambling policy and that seems to be a contradiction. I assume you think it's OK for the states to decide on gambling if it's horse racing or something like that?

A: States should be the entities that decide on issues of gambling that takes place within the state. But where you've got gambling that takes place online, the online world is an interstate and an international network of wires. It really becomes an interstate exercise the minute you take it online. If you think about it, this is actually a necessary step to take to respect each state's right to decide whether or to what extent to allow gambling and that's necessary in order to preserve each state's right to decide. Otherwise, you could have one state here or there authorizing gambling and if no one is able to prohibit Internet gambling, then people in every state would be able to gamble.

Q: Would that be such a horrible outcome though? Shouldn't the individual choose? Shouldn't it be up to an individual to just say, "I want to bet on a sports game," or "I want to bet on the Preakness even though I live 3,000 miles away from the horse track?"

A: Again, I'm approaching this from the standpoint of federalism. I don't think it's the federal government's job to say that every state must recognize gambling, nor is it the government's job to say that states may authorize Internet gambling. This is an appropriate step toward making sure each state may decide on its own what kind of health, safety, and morals legislation it wants to come up with. The best way for the federal government to respect the sovereignty of the states is to place legislation like this so that one state's law can't be easily circumvented.

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  1. So I found something interesting in the Chicago Tribune.

    Elmhurst police officials on Sunday evening said they were called to the home to conduct a “well-being check” of the family after Stack told a friend that he was going to shoot his family and then himself. When police arrived they found the four dead and also found a handgun at the scene. Mary and Frank Jr. Stack were home for the weekend.

    That’s…that’s not our Mary Stack, is it?

    1. Never mind. Later in the story it says this Mary has an IQ of 35.

      1. That does sound a bit high.

      2. That’s the IQ of a toddler, which is entirely consistent with what I’ve seen here.

    2. I thought “our” Mary lived somewhere in Texas.

  2. Under what constitutional powers allotted the federal government can they say no to internet gaming? Would he use the ICA, possibly the most abused act in our history, the same act that is used as justification for the federal governments war on drugs? That act was meant to prevent states from prohibiting commerce across their borders, so SC can’t put a prohibitive tax on NC cotton passing through to GA in order to make their own cotton more attractive, or to prevent condoms from crossing through a state where they are illegal from one state where they are legal to another state where they are legal. The ICA is the republican equivalent of the ‘welfare’ clause to democrats, it’s a catch all that they use to skirt the clear intention of the constitution.

    1. Lee has certainly shown some promise, but yes that defense of gambling regulation was terrible.

    2. Well, no constitutional powers. But, he is a Mormon and, AFAIK, that church opposes gambling. I sometimes think it is difficult for people to break out of deeply rooted cultural beliefs.

      As to why the feds in general ban on-line gaming, I think that comes under the FYTW clause in the constitution.

      1. …maybe the Sheldon Adelson sub-clause?

      2. You know what’s odd about his federalist defense of the regulation of internet gambling? It sounds exactly like the federalist defense of DOMA. That if one state were to allow legal recognition or marriage, without DOMA, other states would be forced to recognize the legal rights pertaining to the recognition of said marriage in their own respective states.

        So when he says that marriage was always a “state issue,” yet also advocates for federal regulation of interstate gambling, we’ve got a weird sort of intellectual contradiction going on about the justification of an abdication of federalism and how Mike Lee approaches it.

        I could be wrong, and don’t want to downgrade him as a thinker or interviewee, but the above just sort of struck me as relevant.

    3. The Commerce Clause grants the federal government the power to regulate instrumentalities of interstate commerce, and has been understood to do so for ~200 years.

      The internet qualifies as such an “instrumentality” just like a bridge between the states.

      I think where Mr. Lee goes awry is when he believes that a state wouldn’t be able to ban its citizens from gambling online. State jurisdiction over online entities is pretty broad and would likely permit prosecution of a company that knew (or should have known) that it was doing business with a citizen of a state in which gambling is banned.

      It seems like he is arguing that states simply have no authority to regulate online gambling, so the federal government has to step in to regulate. He might have a point under the Dormant Commerce Clause that the regulation could be challenged, but Congress can just delegate this power to the states to satisfy Mr. Lee’s desire for Federalism.

      I have little doubt that Mr. Lee understands these issues, so he is probably just ‘playing politics.’ 🙁

  3. “This is an appropriate step toward making sure each state may decide on its own what kind of health, safety, and morals legislation it wants to come up with.”

    As long as it is the moral legislation that we, the Federal government, declare law, the states can do what they want as long as they do what the Feds say?

    1. Great. Because it’s a huge relief knowing that the state can come up with every conceivable law under the sun regulating health, safety, and morals, instead of the feds doing it.

      Rights violations should be left to the states!

      1. It’s a huge relief knowing that instead of all states violating people’s rights on many issues, only some of them do. That way, you can at least vote with your feet.

        Of course, that’s why progressives hate the idea: they don’t want people to be able to get out of the Orwellian (Obamian?) nightmare they are trying to create. You can only screw people like that if you can force them to stay.

  4. my best friend’s step-aunt makes $74 every hour on the laptop . She has been fired for 7 months but last month her check was $13218 just working on the laptop for a few hours. look at here ….

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

  5. “Isn’t that a contradiction?”

    Well, I’m a politician, so the answer is no, and yes.

  6. Sorry, you can take him (Lee) how every you want, but to me he sounds like any other mealy-mouthed politician. It’s up to the federal government, or maybe it’s up to the state government. What about the individual being able to decide for himself whether it’s good for him or not? All of this crap is what got us into the nanny state to begin with.

    Now lets say the a state says, “Well we don’t want a family being ruined because the man of the house is a gamblin’ and running around.” Is it the job of the state to do that? Many a woman has stayed with a man who was a run around John, and a gambler, while others didn’t. Shouldn’t that come down to personal choice? Oh I know there will be those that will say, “Well if that woman leaves the man, and ends up on welfare, then it is up to the state to decide.” However, there are two factors here, a.) not ever gambler is a bad gambler, and b.) gamblers have to pay taxes on their winnings. So isn’t the good gambler paying the cost of welfare for the bad gambler whose wife left him?

    This all seems very obtuse to me.

    1. Yeah, I take no comfort from this interview, either. “It should be the province of the states” isn’t a great recipe for freedom. Most drug laws and other invasions of personal freedom/choice are made at the state level, if only for lack of resources on the part of the feds, who I’m sure would be just as happy to (if they could.)

  7. Mike Lee Says “each state may decide on its own what kind of health, safety, and MORALS legislation it wants to come up with.” Yet I’m sure he opposes when states want to make sure workers get fair treatment/representation and a living wage.

    1. //Yet I’m sure he opposes when states want to make sure workers get fair treatment/representation and a living wage.

      I’ll bet he won’t if the people actually get to vote for it on the local, state level

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