Priority #11: States’ Rights

Written by: Christopher Collard

This post concludes our blog series on concerns that many Utah voters expressed in our survey that didn’t make the cut for our top ten list.

The debate on the division of powers between states and the federal government is in many ways the essence of American politics since the proposal of the U.S. Constitution. The disagreement between the Hamilton Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans carries on today in a number of issues important to Utahns. While many people write off states’ rights as being within the conservative domain, the topic spans both sides of the aisle. Issues involved with states’ rights that conservatives are concerned about include gun rights, federal lands, healthcare, and education. Some states’ rights issues that liberal voters tend to care about are cannabis use and assisted suicide.

Proponents of state rights will often cite the 10th Amendment which conveys to states the powers and duties that are not assigned to the federal government or prohibited from the states. The federal government, however, was granted power to make all laws “necessary and proper” to execute its duties, as well as governing commerce between the states. These two clauses of the Constitution have at times been interpreted in ways that allow the federal government to regulate what – per states’ rights defenders – falls under the purview of the states.

In Utah Foundation’s Utah’s Priorities Project, the issue of states’ rights fell just short of the top-ten list. In the survey, just over half of Utah voters reported a high level of concern (rating a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) when thinking about states’ rights. They tended to be conservative, and have lower levels of educational attainment. When asked directly whether they agreed or disagreed that the federal government has intruded into areas of law and regulation that are better left to the states, 66% of Utah voters agreed while 22% disagreed. Again, those most concerned tended to be those who were more conservative. While 66% of Utah voters agreed that the federal government was intruding on states, not all of them expressed a high level of concern. Only 45% of voters thought agreed the federal government was intruding and expressed a high level of concern about states’ rights, while 21% thought the federal government was intruding, but were not as worried about the issue of states’ rights overall.

states-rights1While many assert that states are the laboratories of democracy that allow local values to govern, others point out the historical role of the federal government ensuring that minority rights are protected in a majoritarian system. The debate regarding the share of power between states and the federal government is not likely to end any time soon.

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