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Liberals are suddenly pleading the 10th Amendment

The political debate over how best to stop coronavirus — as opposed to the closely related health policy bargaining– has produced an evident contradiction for liberals.

On one hand, they have criticized Trump for what they claim is an utterly abysmal national response to COVID-19 — even though several Democratic governors have praised the administration for its quick action in helping them garner personal protective gear, ventilators and additional hospital capacity.

At the same time, liberals have applauded Democratic governors for boldly asserting policies that restrict liberties and reject Trump’s push to reopen the country.

One might say if it weren’t for perpetual inconsistencies, liberals would have no consistency at all.

Nonetheless, in praising these governors and even mayors who criticize Trump’s COVID-19 actions, liberals have shown something not seen heretofore: an appreciation for the 10th Amendment. 

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.” Coupled with the Ninth Amendment, the provision is one the Constitution’s greatest, but little practiced, limiting principles on the federal government.  

The amendment’s ability to do that withered after the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which combined had the noble goal of trying to integrate newly freed slaves into America’s political society over objections by states’ rights advocates.

But as Ira Stoll, founder of FutureofWealth.com, pointed out on Tuesday, Trump’s recent advocacy of reopening churches over Memorial Day helped liberals rediscover this long-forgotten amendment. 

Last week Trump had declared churches “essential” and claimed he had the authority to “override” any governor who wanted to keep houses of worship closed under stay-at-home policies. The president’s grasp of his Constitutional authority in this realm was dubious at best, as noted by Judge Andrew Napolitano, senior legal analyst for Fox News.

“As ill-advised as these gubernatorial orders are, as essential as is the right to worship, as fundamental as it is, as absolutely protected by the First Amendment as it is, the president does not have any authority to override the governors,” Napolitano said Thursday.  

Stoll, writing at Reason.com on Tuesday, cited a litany of liberals — from members of Congress to journalists to lefty activists — who eagerly corrected Trump on the 10th Amendment. He also noted their attitude in curtailing federal authority was significantly different in the early years of the Obama administration, when Tea Party activists criticized overreach from Washington.      

“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that support for states’ rights or federal power is dependent on whether your guy is the one in the White House giving the orders or the one in the governor’s mansion being ordered around,” Stoll wrote, in rightly noting that conservatives can be seduced by the power of centralized government when it suits them.

But throughout the last few decades of our history, liberals have perpetually been the ones who rejected the idea of abiding by the 10th Amendment. That is most clearly seen on the issue of abortion, as they howl loudest that overturning Roe v. Wade means the end of civilization, instead of actually being an exercise in federalism.

“For skeptics of Washington-imposed central authority or big government, the left’s embrace of the Tenth Amendment may be a positive effect of the pandemic. What are the chances that it would last into a Biden administration?” Stoll asks rhetorically in the conclusion. 

The answer, or course, is zero. Which is why Stoll’s opening paragraph was more apt: “Amid the grim coronavirus news of death and unemployment, at least there is the comic relief of the left embracing the Tenth Amendment.” Comic indeed. 

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