Trite dinner-party-punditry alert: Isn’t it so ironic that liberals are turning to states’ rights, a POV that’s traditionally a go-to for conservatives?
As everyone knows, “States’ Rights” became synonymous with Southern resistance to desegregation during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. The idea, a kind of loose-y goosey reading of the 10th Amendment which says powers not delegated to the federal government in the constitution are reserved to the states, has since evolved into a general GOP POV that translates into the demand for smaller federal government. (I say loose-y goosey because even though outlawing child labor, for example, isn’t listed in the constitution, the feds still have the right to outlaw it for a whole host of legitimate constitutional reasons.)
Since Trump won the election, cities including Seattle have been announcing they will resist Trump’s anti-immigration agenda by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officers. Seattle, in fact, already had a law on the books (since 2003) that prohibits city bureaucrats—like a city light bill collector—from asking someone about their immigration status. The Seattle law also applies to the SPD by prohibiting officers from asking about a suspect’s immigration status. Cities with these kinds of policies—New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Minneapolis for example—are known colloquially as “Sanctuary Cities.” Mayor Ed Murray announced the day after the election that Seattle would continue to be a Sanctuary City even if soon-to-be President Trump yanks federal funding for local programs to punish cities for not enforcing federal rules.
First, the bitchy rejoinder: If liberals are being hypocrites for embracing states’ rights (cities’ rights in this instance), then conservatives are equally guilty of hypocrisy—for siding with top-down federal control.
But the substantive rejoinder is this: Liberals are being consistent (as are conservatives). Liberals are siding with civil rights like they’ve always done and conservatives are standing against civil rights per usual.
“OneAmerica is a human rights, civil rights, and immigrants’ rights organization,” OneAmerica executive director Rich Stolz told me when I ran the cutesy gotcha by him that progressives were behaving just like a defiant Southern governor in the 1960s. “We’re concerned that what Trump may propose may trample people’s civil rights,” he added.
Civil Rights then, not states’ rights, is the common denominator for progressive cities.
The other common denominator that guides the liberal POV: the courts. When the south cried “States’ Rights” in the 1950s and 1960s, they were ignoring the fact that the Republican Eisenhower administration and the Democratic Kennedy and Johnson administrations were bound by the U.S. Supreme Court which had ruled that segregation was unconstitutional; the constitution applies to everyone, not just people in “elitist” Northern states.
A local law, a King County law passed by the Democratic majority on the county council and by King County Executive Dow Constantine three years ago, demonstrates that the Democratic position is aligned with the courts. The King County ordinance prohibits King County Jail from holding people for the purpose of turning them over to federal immigration officials. Here’s the deal: When people are put in jail, say for stealing a car, their name immediately gets run through a federal data base to check their immigration status. If they turn up as an undocumented immigrant, the feds send out what’s known as a “detainer”—a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Homeland Security to hold them. Citing due process law (namely, that’s not why the person is in jail), King County doesn’t play along. And here’s the thing: The federal courts recently backed them up.
In short, liberals aren’t hemming and hawing over local versus federal control. They’re being emphatic about society’s legal protections for people's civil rights.
Trump, on the other hand, is using a sliding scale of Federalism to eviscerate rights.
He wants the federal level to rule on immigration policy so he can sidestep due process. And, taking another example, he wants states’ rights to rule on abortion to sidestep 40-plus years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. (Liberals, of course, oppose devolving abortion law to the state-by-state level because it would jeopardize women’s civil rights.)
Here’s what’s truly ironic: Trump is bullish about expanding federal police power on immigration even though he boasted about not paying his federal income taxes.
And here’s what’s ironic, but totally unsurprising: Donald "Grab Them by the Pussy" Trump wants to treat women as sex toys, but then restrict their reproductive rights.
Liberals aren’t being hypocrites by resisting Trump’s assault on civil rights at every level, they’re being patriots.