now with more cowbell
Does the Constitution still mean anything?
Posted: 2005-06-10 01:54
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Politics

By now, this topic has been covered a million times over in practically every other corner of the Internet. This isn't going to stop me from throwing my two cents out, too.

By a 6–3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's "Commerce Clause" (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3, which reads, "[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes") gives the federal government the power (through the Controlled Substances Act, which states that marijuana has no medical value) to arrest and prosecute growers and users of medical marijuana, even in states with laws specifically allowing such a use.

This particular case, Gonzales v. Raich, involves two California women, Angel Raich and Diane Monson, who were both prescribed marijuana by their physicians. Monson grew her own marijuana plants, while Raich had plants provided to her at no charge by two unnamed individuals. Federal agents raided Monson's residence and destroyed the plants she was cultivating.

The case has been watched very intently, as it not only relates to the debate over marijuana, but also over that of federal power. The case came down to an interpretation of the Commerce Clause, and the resulting power of Congress to regulate 'interstate commerce.'

Despite the fact that neither plaintiff was engaged in any act of commerce (there was no economic exchange) and that the acts were entirely intrastate, the Court ruled that "Congress' Commerce Clause authority includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law." The argument is that allowing such legal uses (under state law) lead to a greater market for the drug, which in turn becomes both an interstate and a commerce issue.

It should come as no great surprise that I think this ruling completely misses the entire point of the Commerce Clause and of the Tenth Amendment. The Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to regulate "commerce ... among the many States." The Tenth Amendment ensures that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution ... are reserved to the States respectively." It is tortuous logic to stretch the Constitution to cover the government's actions here, and the fact that six members of our Supreme Court (in addition to the members of Congress who voted in favor of such legislation, as well as the presidents who signed it and have enforced it) is heartbreaking.

By explicitly including only "commerce ... among the many States," and not something along the lines of "activities affecting commerce among the many States," the authors of the Constitution made it clear that only those actions which are commerce and take place "among the many States" are subject to Congressional regulation or action. It, along with the Tenth Amendment, is perhaps the most important "states' rights" provision of the Constitution. By so broadly interpreting it (and make no mistake, this case is not the first; one need only read the majority opinion here to see other citations which are used as precedent for such overreaching) the Court has served to further erode the already weak rights of the states.

This angers me to no end. The Supreme Court is supposed to rein in the legislative and executive branches when they exceed their Constitutional authority, not selectively ignore certain parts of the Constitution to stay in line with their personal beliefs (on this note, it is widely postulated that Scalia, who is typically in favor of more state power, joined with the majority due to his personal feelings regarding marijuana). That such a thing has happened is, to me, a sign of the impending decline or collapse of the government. To me, this case (and the others in the same vein) are the essence of what some call "judicial activism." It is disturbing that many of the same people who decry such a thing support this decision, being motivated by their own personal feelings regarding marijuana.

I feel that we are in a situation where all three branches of our federal government are in violation of the Constitution, and we no longer have any remedy, since the judiciary has shredded the Constitution to declare all of it legal. As I mentioned in a previous rant, we need to be alert to the dangers of incrementalism, or as some would call it, the "slippery slope." At each point along the way, the next step seems like a small and justified one based on all you have behind you. What gets lost in that is that all of these small steps start to add up, and without stepping back to look at the "big picture," we don't realize it. I think this country needs to stop for a moment and take a look at that big picture.

The federal government was created by the Constitution in order to make life better for the people of this country. By moving some powers (such the power to make money, or wage war) to a centralized entity, the states would be able to better deal with the local issues affecting its residents. The Tenth Amendment very clearly shows that the intent of the Framers was to leave power to the states, and to prevent the central government from growing too large and becoming too controlling. In this case, we have a state law specifically aimed at providing relief to a certain class of people (those whose doctors feel that marijuana is the only course of relief or treatment available to them). Over the opinions of medical doctors who feel that marijuana provides effective relief, the government insists that marijuana has no medical value. By sticking to this, the federal government is making life worse for some people, and no better for others.

The entire federal government has overstepped its bounds, and this is the sort of thing we must not be complacent about. If we are all content to merely sit back and watch, without organized and vocal opposition, this slide will only continue, and there will nothing standing between the government and unchecked power.


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