The FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort has resulted in a backlash from Red states against an agency once beloved by the right-wing. Lacking control over either legislative house or the presidency, for Republicans there is little they are able to do besides make odd threats of their eventual control of Congress. So what can Red states do to prevent further overreach by the Federal Bureau of Investigation? The answer lies in the Founding Fathers and the lost American art of federalism.
A system of federalism relies upon the strong decentralization of governance, where regions remain semi-autonomous and free to embrace or even nullify any central authority of their federal government. Nullification remains the key, the ability of a local government rendering federal edicts null and void. Thomas Jefferson himself described it in a draft of the 1798 Kentucky Resolutions:
Every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact (casus non faederis) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits. Without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them.
Embedded in the story of a Jeffersonian style of governance is that of states’ rights—that local governments carried far more jurisdiction over the laws of the land than that of the federal. Lincoln’s invasion of the South and subsequent “preservation” of the union (regardless of the morality of the southern states and their reason for secession) led to a swift crackdown on federalism. The message was sent: dissent from DC and be crushed under heel. However, a sudden rise in states taking initiative over their own self-governance may be revealing a new era of Federalism.
States, both left and right, have taken opportunity of the tumultuous political climate to reassert their positions on a myriad of issues. Blue states remain far more hesitant to exert their influence, but one cannot forget the sanctuary city debacle; where cities and states refused to comply and aid ICE (Immigration Control and Enforcement) in the capture of illegal immigrants. Notably among them are the states of California and New York and even counties like Hennepin County, Minnesota or Cook County, Illinois.
Red states seem far more willing to rebuff the federal government. Several have shunned federal firearm laws and pressure for gun control, and twenty five states have instituted constitutional carry despite scorn by federal agencies like the ATF. The state of New Hampshire even went so far as to explicitly bar state enforcement of federal firearm laws.
Drug laws provide another example of states exerting more of an influence than their federal counterparts. Nineteen states have legalized recreational marijuana, essentially spitting in the face of the DEA and federal marijuana prohibition. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a stand amongst the federal COVID-19 response by lifting restrictions on his state significantly earlier than most and fighting against federal vaccine mandates. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota went further and refused to cooperate with the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” message that was pushed in the first place.
But as states claw back more and more power, so comes more sovereignty. But where is the logical end of the retrieval of power to the states? What if they claim all power? Would that not mean the federal government is obsolete and thus null and void? Are states becoming fully autonomous the libertarian solution?
Secession appears to be the final conclusion of the federalist decentralization of power. There have been secession movements in the United States that go well beyond the Civil War. During the War of 1812, New England considered seceding from the union due to complaints over ther war’s effects on their merchant trade. Even today, amidst growing political tension between the two ruling parties, there is support for secession amongst both political groups. According to a study by Bright Line Watch, 47% of western Democrats support regional secession, and 66% of southern Republicans feel the same. Lawmakers in New Hampshire have proposed bills that would allow the state to secede from the union. Republicans in Texas have moved to adopt a resolution calling for the state to vote on secession. It appears that decentralization of power may be getting a boost.
Perhaps the solution to a red hot culture war is to disengage totally; to stop abdicating power over our lives to a centralized institution thousands of miles away; to stop trying to rule over one another. Perhaps it is time to take back power from the federal government and embrace the system that was callously discarded after the Civil War. It is time to revive federalism once more.