Walter E. Williams, Ph.D., is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City College, Doctor of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College and Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor Honorario.More ↓Less ↑
Our Colonial ancestors petitioned and pleaded with King George III to get his boot off their necks. He ignored their pleas, and in 1776, they rightfully declared unilateral independence and went to war. Today it’s the same story except Congress is the one usurping the rights of the people and the states, making King George’s actions look mild in comparison. Our constitutional ignorance – perhaps contempt, coupled with the fact that we’ve become a nation of wimps, sissies and supplicants – has made us easy prey for Washington’s tyrannical forces. But that might be changing a bit. There are rumblings of a long overdue re-emergence of Americans’ characteristic spirit of rebellion.
Eight state legislatures have introduced resolutions declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; they include Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington. There’s speculation that they will be joined by Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada, Maine and Pennsylvania.
You might ask, “Isn’t the 10th Amendment that no-good states’ rights amendment that Dixie governors, such as George Wallace and Orval Faubus, used to thwart school desegregation and black civil rights?” That’s the kind of constitutional disrespect and ignorance big-government proponents, whether they’re liberals or conservatives, want you to have. The reason is that they want Washington to have total control over our lives. The founders tried to limit that power with the 10th Amendment, which reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
New Hampshire’s 10th Amendment resolution typifies others and, in part, reads: “That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General (federal) Government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” Put simply, these 10th Amendment resolutions insist that the states and their people are the masters and that Congress and the White House are the servants. Put yet another way, Washington is a creature of the states, not the other way around.
Congress and the White House will laugh off these state resolutions. State legislatures must take measures that put some teeth into their 10th Amendment resolutions. Congress will simply threaten a state, for example, with a cutoff of highway construction funds if it doesn’t obey a congressional mandate, such as those that require seat belt laws or that lower the legal blood-alcohol level to .08 for drivers. States might take a lead explored by Colorado.
In 1994, the Colorado Legislature passed a 10th Amendment resolution and later introduced a bill titled “State Sovereignty Act.” Had the State Sovereignty Act passed both houses of the legislature, it would have required all people liable for any federal tax that’s a component of the highway users fund, such as a gasoline tax, to remit those taxes directly to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The money would have been deposited in an escrow account called the “Federal Tax Fund” and remitted monthly to the IRS, along with a list of payees and respective amounts paid. If Congress imposed sanctions on Colorado for failure to obey an unconstitutional mandate and penalized the state by withholding funds due, say $5 million for highway construction, the State Sovereignty Act would have prohibited the state treasurer from remitting any funds in the escrow account to the IRS. Instead, Colorado would have imposed a $5 million surcharge on the Federal Tax Fund account to continue the highway construction.
The eight state legislatures that have enacted 10th Amendment resolutions deserve our praise, but their next step is to give them teeth.