People tend to think about how things work in relation to how well they’re working for them. That’s why some Democrats, who’ve won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in two of the last five elections, want to get rid of the Electoral College, while many Republicans say it’s a pillar of democracy. If the results had been reversed, so would have been the arguments.
Which leads us to the 10th Amendment, sometimes known as federalism or states’ rights.
The 10th Amendment states, “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.” As the national government has grown in recent years, it has been the most ignored amendment outside of the 18th, the one that prohibited the sale of alcohol, which was repealed by the 21st.
Some conservatives have called for bringing back the 10th Amendment, particularly during the last eight years when they didn’t like what the federal government was doing. They say states have different cultures, economies and histories and should be able to enact policies that fit themselves. Moreover, states should have the freedom to be laboratories of democracy, where ideas are subject to experimentation and then can be copied, modified or rejected by other states and the federal government.
Democrats have looked skeptically at returning power to the states, largely because the idea of “states’ rights” has been used to justify racial and other types of discrimination, including in Arkansas. Moreover, moving power to the states would make it harder to enact sweeping programs at the federal level, such as Obamacare.
But now here’s what Democrats, particularly in blue states, are facing. President Trump occupies the White House and leads the executive branch, and he has already nominated a Supreme Court justice who will give conservatives a 5-4 majority. Among the four “liberal” justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 and Stephen Breyer is 78, while the sometimes swing voter, Anthony Kennedy, is 80. By the time Trump leaves office, the Court could have a conservative tilt for decades to come.
Republicans also control the House and the Senate. True, Democrats could take back the Senate in 2018, but they would have to overcome two challenges. First, Republicans tend to do better in midterm elections because their older, more conservative voters vote more often. And second, Democrats have more to lose next year. Of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs, eight are held by Republicans and 23 are held by Democrats, while the other two seats are held by independents who vote with Democrats. Ten Democratic senators are running for re-election in states carried by Trump in 2016.
Democrats also face another problem with the national map: where they live. Democrats tend to cluster in big cities while Republicans are spread across the country, which is why Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million people but lost the election, and why there are more red states than blue ones. Demographic changes – an increasingly more diverse population in many parts of the country – have been expected to counteract this, but they obviously didn’t in 2016.
The result of all this is that some blue states, particularly California, are really getting the short end of the stick, and will continue to do so. With more than 39 million people, California’s population is almost as large as the 22 smallest states combined, including Arkansas. The people of those states have 44 U.S. senators between them, while Californians have two. It’s no wonder California is a donor state, meaning it sends more money to Washington, D.C., then it gets back. And it’s no wonder that there’s a growing movement among Californians to try to secede from the union. In fact, blue states tend to be donor states across the board, while red states tend to be receivers.
So could Democrats, particularly in big blue states like California, embrace returning some power to the states? If states had more power, President Trump would be less important, his secretary of education couldn’t tell people how to run their schools, and blue staters could keep more of their tax dollars.
So we’ll close with two questions. First, will Democrats give the 10th Amendment a try, now that they aren’t in charge of any part of the federal government?
And second, will Republicans turn their backs on the 10th Amendment, now that they are in charge of all of it?