My Dear Fellow Conservatives and Libertarians:
We need to give up this notion of “states’ rights.” First of all, it’s in bad taste. The phrase used to be code for “Jim Crow.” And while I’m certain that’s not true for 99% of us, we can — and should — do better than to emulate vile racists. Secondly, however, “states’ rights” is a misnomer. It’s an impossible thing. It doesn’t exist, and shouldn’t.
Let me explain.
I remember reading once somewhere that:
All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
In other words, individuals have rights, and governments are instituted with powers to protect those rights, and are (or ought to be) restricted from abusing them.
With me so far? Individuals have rights; governments have powers.
A few short years after Thomas Jefferson wrote those words, our Constitution was designed in such a way as to protect our individual rights, and not just by the legal fiat of enacting it. Our system of government was constituted to prevent, or at least slow down, the accumulation of government powers in ways that would restrict our rights.
We have three branches of the federal government, each in tension with the other two — as everyone should (but probably no longer does) learn in civics class. But there’s another level to it. The federal government also has tensions and oppositions with the governments of the several states. (Less tension and opposition than there used to be, thanks to the 17th Amendment — but that’s an open letter for another day.)
This is all well and good and as it should be. Fast, efficient government is an oppressive government.