The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified 224 years ago — almost to the day — to ensure that the rights of the people would be protected from a government in Washington, D.C., eager to impose its will on them. Unless a power is specifically delegated to the federal government under the Constitution, it is “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The Framers called for this protection — and the American people ratified it as part of the Bill of Rights — because they did not want a national government hundreds of miles from their homes dictating how they lived their daily lives. Except to preserve our constitutionally guaranteed rights, that kind of authority must reside with the people and is shared only with their state legislatures.
Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThis week: Trump makes first address to Congress Trump's first dinner out in DC: His own hotel DC residents back Utah rep's primary challenger MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is a good conservative with a BoehnerJohn BoehnerMarch is the biggest month for GOP in a decade House markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving MORE-era American Conservative Union (ACU) rating of 88 percent. That is a very respectable score that roughly correlates with his alignment to the 10th Amendment. Chaffetz and many of Utah’s political leaders strongly support transferring certain federal lands back to the states. Clearly, Chaffetz understands that state and local governments are better equipped and motivated to enhance environmental health and economic productivity than nameless, faceless bureaucrats in Washington can ever hope to achieve. The ACU also applauds Chaffetz’s efforts to restore the rights of the states to establish their own taxing systems. This issue is often horribly mischaracterized by certain opponents, so the congressman’s support of states’ rights in this instance shows courage, and we respect him for it.
However, conservative principles are not something that members of Congress can pick and choose to adopt when it’s convenient. To do so would create a slippery slope that would erode the basic foundations of our federal-state system. Just as we encourage every member of Congress to strengthen their conservative ratings, we hope that all members make this point clear in the upcoming hearing in the Oversight Committee that Chaffetz has called to consider the issue of Internet gambling later this week.
The ACU understands that gambling harms some people. Scientific American magazine recently cited surveys showing that about one-half of 1 percent of Americans are addicted to gambling. While we do not want to diminish the tragedy of addiction, we don’t see how federal intervention could be superior to a state response to this problem, or why the heavy hand of the federal government should be allowed to trump the 10th Amendment when the percentage of impacted Americans is so miniscule. States have already proven that they have the ability to prohibit gambling or approve and regulate it.
It is also important to note that no bill in Congress would or could ban online gambling, in part because it is impossible to prevent foreign operators in places like the Caribbean, China, and Russia from bringing their gambling business into U.S. markets. Moreover, Chaffetz’s bill would allow some domestic Internet gambling and prevent others, essentially picking the winners and losers. FanDuel and DraftKings are just two examples. And, for years, Americans have been legally allowed to bet on horse racing over the Internet.
As strong supporters of the 10th Amendment, the ACU will never forget that when we grow the power of the federal government to limit people’s freedoms, we also empower it to mandate other aspects of our lives (e.g., the Little Sisters of the Poor under the ObamaCare mandates). Therefore, we would need to see significant, broad-based harm before even entertaining the idea of federal usurpation of states’ rights. We do not see that kind of harm here, nor do we see any tangible benefit from adopting such a scheme.
Similarly, as explained in an interview with William F. Buckley Jr. in 1967, then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan explained there is, in fact, “a very practical advantage” for allowing the states to govern themselves on thorny issues. Reagan noted that the advantage is this: If conditions are so terrible in one state, the federal system of 50 states gives citizens the right to vote with their feet. As long as the rules and the regulations and the taxes are not uniform, there’s a kind of built-in control on how bad a state government can get, because if it passes a certain point, the people just pack up and move to another state where things are better. We should look very carefully on throwing away this control. Let’s say that all the rules become uniform; then, if you object to the policies of government, where do you go?
Reagan got it right. Honoring the rights of states not only generates the kind of laboratories of learning envisioned by the Framers, it also prevents one state from forcing its will on another. It would be a sad day, indeed, if Nevada were permitted to dictate to the people of Utah what kinds of gambling would be permitted in Salt Lake City.
Moreover, it’s not Congress’s job to pick winners and losers. Using the federal government to target certain competitors may be very good for the profits of some favored businesses, but it is by no means an appropriate way to set policy. Although we understand the substantial downside to irresponsible gambling, it is not a proper use of the federal government to preserve the profits and success of a single company’s business plan.
Conservatives recognize and understand that each state should set its own policies under the rights guaranteed by 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Conservatives trust the states to know what is right. Furthermore, conservatives trust our fellow Americans to understand that all people should be treated equally under the law with favoritism toward none. We urge all members of the House Oversight Committee to stand for the principles in our Constitution.
Schneider is the executive director of the American Conservative Union.