Friday, May 22, 2009

A new federalism?

In a move that genuinely supports states rights, President Obama is directing federal agencies to review and, where possible, eliminate rules that "preempt" state actions.
President Obama continued to reverse his predecessor's policies this week by undoing a controversial Bush administration rule known as "preemption" that used federal regulations to override state laws on the environment, health, public safety and other issues.

...The president ordered department heads to review all regulations issued in the past 10 years that are designed to preempt state law and determine whether they are justified under the new policy. If they cannot be justified, Obama said, his administration should consider amending the regulations.
From the President's memorandum
Throughout our history, State and local governments have frequently protected health, safety, and the environment more aggressively than has the national Government.

An understanding of the important role of State governments in our Federal system is reflected in longstanding practices by executive departments and agencies, which have shown respect for the traditional prerogatives of the States. In recent years, however, notwithstanding Executive Order 13132 of August 4, 1999 (Federalism), executive departments and agencies have sometimes announced that their regulations preempt State law, including State common law, without explicit preemption by the Congress or an otherwise sufficient basis under applicable legal principles.

The purpose of this memorandum is to state the general policy of my Administration that preemption of State law by executive departments and agencies should be undertaken only with full consideration of the legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption.
Republicans "talk the talk" on the states' rights issue. Their current contrived fetish is the Tenth Amendment movement, whereby states reclaim sovereignty from federal regulations not expressly described in the Constitution.

What though did Republicans do while they held the reins of federal power? They used that power to run roughshod over the states, usually to the benefit of big business but sometimes as a sop to the religious right and other right-wing interests. Strengthen emissions standards? Protect consumers from the worst abuses of lenders and credit card companies? Decriminalize marijuana? Republicans couldn't leave those decisions to the irresponsible states.

My guess is that you won't see the Republican apparatchiks behind the Tenth Amendment movement lauding this latest change in policy. They want their states to be able to enact every kind of kooky, right-wing strangeness; they just don't trust all those other states that might do something different.