States’ rights are a funny thing. They are certainly fun to talk about and provide a great backdrop from which to criticize the federal government.
Here in Utah, perhaps we should make criticizing the federal government a professional sport, perhaps an Olympic event, or perhaps Rep. Carl Wimmer can propose it as an official state pastime.
What makes states’ rights funny, though, is how inconvenient they can be when they aren’t, well, convenient.
Recently, Gov. Gary Herbert was outraged at an Arizona proposal to make the section of I-15 that passes through that state into a toll road. Apparently Herbert felt that this would be unfair to Utahns making the drive to or from Las Vegas or otherwise using this small stretch of road.
So we wonder: Why is this not entirely Arizona’s decision under the usual states’ rights argument?
It is worth noting that in all of the arguments put forth to claim Utah’s federal lands as our own — whether for state ownership or to be put into private hands — no protections have been offered for the land. Nothing is said about protecting access to these lands for all Americans, nor about protecting Utahns or non-Utahns from a free-market-imposed pricing structure that would discourage visitors from other states.
Congress is considering legislation that would require all states to recognize each other’s concealed weapon permits. Utah’s failure to require certain levels of training for concealed weapon permit holders makes some states uncomfortable about Utah’s permits. They seem to feel that this would interfere with their right to regulate concealed weapon permits within their own state.
Apparently Utah’s entire congressional delegation spoke out in favor of this federal legislation. Utah’s congressional representatives have been known to jump on the states’ rights bandwagon on other issues, so their support for this legislation is puzzling.
Rep. Rob Bishop puzzles me most. Bishop, of course, is a regular and vehement defender of states’ rights. He often argues (and often incorrectly) about the history of federal lands in Utah and the need to transfer those lands to private or state hands. In fact, Bishop leads a GOP states’ rights group.
Yet in response to this legislation, Bishop’s retort to the states’ rights argument was that this was typical rhetoric from politicians who simply dislike guns.
“This is a fake argument used against the bill. They don’t want people to want guns. Period,” he said.
And that is curious because, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Americans have a right to own guns under the Second Amendment, the discussion has been about the scope of reasonable state regulations.
Using Bishop’s logic on the gun-permit issue, it seems equally logical to suggest that same-sex marriage, recently legalized in New York, should be recognized by Utah. And if a Utahn legally purchases liquor for personal consumption in another state, by this very same logic, that Utahn should be free to bring it home.
States have a legitimate, and constitutionally protected, interest in things that happen within their borders. When those interests extend past a state’s borders, issues of interstate cooperation, interstate commerce and the power of Congress rear their heads.
And this is how it should be — how the framers of the Constitution anticipated it would be.
So it doesn’t seem too much to ask of Bishop and the rest of our congressmen and our state leaders to recognize not only Utah’s interest in states’ rights, but that of the other 49 states as well.
Maryann Martindale is executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH.
© 2011 The Salt Lake Tribune