Meckler: In the Wake of Dobbs, Radical Federalism Is the Only Way Back to Civility

AP Photo/Anna Johnson

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, something strange happened. The largest and most vocal protests happened in Washington, D.C., and states such as New York and California where abortion access is likely to remain as permissive as it is today. Once people figure out a little bit of federalism is in play, the protests are not sustainable. The outrage will wane when people passionate about the right to abortion on demand, throughout pregnancy, and without apology realize most of them live in states where it is still available.


According to Mark Meckler, president of Convention of States Foundation & Convention of States Action (COSA), Dobbs must be the beginning of a trend toward more federalism, not an isolated decision. “The country is coming apart at the seams, and the fundamental reason, in my opinion, is a lack of federalism,” Meckler asserted. “What I mean by that is, is whoever is in power in Washington D.C., whether it’s Republicans or Democrats, roughly 50% of the country is angry about everything that is happening.”

“There’s too much being decided in D.C., and the way we solve the discord and calm everything down is to take the power away from D.C. and give it back to the states. Then we can debate these issues in the states where it was always intended to be done,” he added. Dobbs has put the issue of abortion squarely back in the hands of state legislatures.

According to Meckler, we need more issues sent back to the states to ease the pressure valve. Georgia can be Georgia and hold its elected leaders accountable. California can paint an airplane pink and fly all over the country, picking up abortion tourists if it likes. On a national level, abortion just ceased to be a wedge issue. For the foreseeable future, it will be hard to fundraise off it or campaign on it for federal office.

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Because so much power has consolidated in the nation’s capital, starting with the reinterpretation of the commerce clause under FDR, almost every issue is becoming a national tug of war. “It’s not just every election,” Meckler noted. “It’s every Supreme Court nomination. The Supreme Court now is the ultimate decider. So every time you have a Supreme Court Justice being nominated, there’s going to be a political nuclear war.” Returning to a more expansive view of the Tenth Amendment, where all but express powers return to states, would return Supreme Court confirmations to a legitimate measure of competence. That is something many of us have never seen since Robert Bork’s name became a verb in the late 1980s.

“I call what is going on in the country right now ‘The Great Decoupling.’ The country will come apart no matter what,” Meckler predicted. “The question is, how does it come apart? Does it come apart violently? Are people talking secession and civil war, or do we do it in a civil way? The way you do it civilly is that you simply go back to the way that worked.” Meckler believes that since World War II, the United States has operated under what he calls a “veneer of unity” inconsistent with our history.

The states cooperated to address existential threats between the Revolutionary War and World War II. But people lived as a large, diverse group of loosely knit states in a republic. The founders were not a group of like-minded individuals and, in many cases, really disliked one another. They realized they needed to cooperate to address the threats from England, France, the Native American tribes, and Spain. They set up a federalist system to peaceably co-exist and come together for specific purposes when required.


That changed during World War II. The entire nation faced an existential threat with a spirit of national unity not seen since the Revolutionary War. Women entered the workforce together. Everyone knew someone who was serving or had died in battle. The nation sacrificed, recycled, scrapped, and tended victory gardens together. When the troops came home, the country started to govern more from the federal level, ignoring the history of federalism.

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The federal agencies started by Woodrow Wilson and FDR increased in number and consolidated power. By the 1950s, the national media emerged, reinforcing a veneer of unity. Then national retail chains appeared, and we started eating the same food, watching the same entertainment, and cheering our favorite teams in national sports leagues. The feeling of unity began to crumble with the radical anti-war, anti-American movements in the 1960s. Our social schisms began during that contentious and violent period and have never gone away. Yet, power continued to consolidate in Washington, D.C., through an ever-expanding administrative state run by the Oval Office.

We have existential threats today in China, Russia, a failed state and international criminal organizations on our southern border, and Islamofascism. According to Meckler, to release the pressure and resentment building in the country and deal with these threats internationally, the nation needs to return to a federalist approach to governance quickly. Fortunately, he feels the court’s current composition can aid in that process.


“I expect over the next couple of terms, we will see an end to Chevron deference. We have a [Supreme] Court that is hostile to the administrative state, which is an extraordinarily positive development,” Meckler observed. “The very essence of the administrative state is anti-federalism. One size fits all solutions come straight from unelected bureaucrats in D.C.” In Meckler’s opinion, most federal agencies have no constitutional basis and contribute to the ideological tug of war in the country today.

The carrots are getting harder to swallow, and the sticks are getting bigger. “These agencies are broadening their own powers because the administration directs them to do things like impose transgenderism on local schools by depriving kids of food,” Meckler added. Luckily, he thinks SCOTUS has shown hostility to that kind of bureaucratic overreach in their vaccine mandate decision and limitations the court already placed on the Chevron doctrine.

The decision in Dobbs reinforces his view that this court will make decisions that support federalism by sending issues back to the states that belong there according to the Constitution and limiting executive agency power. With states threatening to ignore the decisions of SCOTUS, staff leaking rulings in advance to sway the justices, and President Biden and the DOJ openly objecting to recent decisions, radical federalism can’t get here fast enough.



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