There are few powers that were originally given to congress by the United States Constitution. These powers are known as the “enumerated powers”. These powers were meant to ensure that the federal government would be limited in its authority over the states and the people. Specifically, the enumerated powers allow the government authority to handle foreign affairs, provide for the common defense, regulate money and the value thereof, as well as make necessary laws that are in compliance with the Constitution of the United States. Beyond these items, there are limited things that the federal government was ever meant to do.
Despite this fact, the federal government has continued to grow and expand its authority and powers over the years. At first glance, these shifts in power may seem inconsequential, however, the question is less about whether the shift in power will cause problems and more about if there is constitutional precedence for these shifts in power. One of the founding fathers, James Madison, had some very pointed views on how and why the powers of the federal government should be balanced. Madison said, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state government are numerous and indefinite.” This further reinforces the point that the powers of the federal government were meant to be kept in check.
The protection of lands and endangered species are two current topics where the distribution of authority between the state and federal levels has been debated. One of the main arguments against allowing states to retain the power to protect and preserve their own wildlife is that many states lack the resources, funds, or interest to adequately protect and provide for the needs of their indigenous wildlife. While some of these arguments may have some merit, unless the states specifically cede control over certain rights, the federal government does not have a constitutional right to interfere with state affairs.
The arguments in favor of federal involvement in the states can receive a lot of sympathy when the individual states seem apathetic towards the issue. However, it is not so much a question of “who can do the job better?”, but rather a question of who has the right and authority under the Constitution to make those decisions. If it was, however, a question of competence, the federal government has had a bad track record for trying to take over and run private organizations. We have seen this in some large and well-known companies like GM Motors and JP Morgan, both of which resulted in a loss of billions of taxpayer dollars.
In the end, even if the government did have the right to intervene in state affairs, historically, it just isn’t very good at it. Private organizations have had much better success with starting and running businesses because they often have a personal stake in the company. They also tend to make smarter decisions for the business because they have a better understanding of its inner workings as well as demand for its products or services. One needs to look no further than their local Walmart to see how private enterprise can not only become hugely successful but beneficial to the community as well.
In the end, there are many reasons one could use to argue why the federal government shouldn’t involve itself in state affairs. There is, however, one question that should be asked before any other. “Does the federal government have the right to do it?” If the state has not specifically granted permission or if it isn’t listed as one of the enumerated powers as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, then the answer is likely NO. The constitution of the United States always intended for the state and federal powers to have responsibilities and powers independent of each other. When one of these entities tries to extend its authority over the other, rights, liberty, and freedoms will inevitably be restricted.
Stephen Thorup is a policy intern with the Madison Liberty Institute (MLI). A senior majoring in economics at Brigham Young University – Idaho, he currently holds an Associates of Economics from Salt Lake Community College in Utah. Stephen is engaged and currently calls Rexburg, Idaho home. He is bilingual, fluent in English and Spanish.