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  • D. Randall Faro

States' Rights or Wrongs

Traveling throughout the U.S. produces a plethora of questions about why different states have laws that often vary considerably.

Speeding at 80mph on an Interstate highway through any urban area in South Dakota is legal. Three states to the east in Indiana the urban Interstate limit is 55mph.

California has some of the strictest laws in the country for purchasing a handgun, but Texas just passed a law that no background check or training is required to acquire one.

One can smoke marijuana recreationally in Washington State, but in Idaho doing so is a criminal offense.

In California a driver can fill his/her own car with gas, but Oregon law forbids it.


States’ rights are a product of the system of federalism, a political system through which two or more governments have shared authority over the same geographical area. The U.S. is one of several countries that are so organized – Canada, Australia, India and Argentina among others – although the disposition of power differs among them. The American founders thought this system a suitable idea back in 1790 when the thirteenth state, Rhode Island, ratified the Constitution. At that time the new nation’s population was a hair under four million. Today’s U.S. population is eighty-two times that large.

An important question: are mindsets and precepts as contemporarily applicable as they were over two hundred years ago? It’s a different world now . . . entirely.

The first automobile wasn’t invented until one hundred years after the Constitution was ratified. The Founders couldn’t have in their wildest dreams imagined zooming cross country at 70mph.The repeating rifle didn’t appear until seventy years later. The Founders couldn’t have in their wildest dreams imagined an Uzi or AR-15. Etcetera.

At issue, by my lights, is whether federalism as conceived by the Founders needs some fine tuning. The overemphasis on states’ rights has the country leaning more toward the Disunited vs United States.

On what principle should an act within a country be illegal at one place, and ten steps away across an imaginary line be allowed with impunity? Are the people who live in Delaware so different from those in Arizona that they should live under differing laws for the same action?

Nation, state, county, municipality, neighborhood. The same sorts of people live within them all. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to treat them differently.

Just thinking out loud.


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