States’ rights?

The National Governors Association kicked off its 100th annual gathering Saturday in Philadelphia with a speech by former President Bill Clinton that emphasized the role states play in setting national policy.

It was an interesting thesis put forward by a man who for eight years led a federal government that far too often is reluctant to grant states the autonomy to address the nation’s issues and problems.

“The Founders were right,” Mr. Clinton said. “You have to be laboratories of democracy. The NGA gives the governors a forum to do that.”

Mr. Clinton is 100 percent correct. Problem is, as Washington’s hegemony has expanded to include dominion over everything from flush toilets and washing machines to local land use issues, the approach Mr. Clinton correctly urges is seen as radical and extreme by many pulling the levers of power today inside the beltway.

Just try quoting the 10th Amendment — “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” — as justification for a state choosing its own way on a matter of public policy. You’ll get either a blank stare or a derisive giggle.

Whether it’s medical marijuana, local speed limits, the drinking age, end of life matters for terminal patients or many other major issues, Washington since the days of FDR has largely thumbed its nose at allowing states to experiment with their own solutions. Instead, the federal government knows best and you local boys better get in line or risk the repercussions.

Yes, Mr. Clinton, the Founders were right. States should be the “laboratories of democracy” and have the freedom — indeed the Bill of Rights grants them the freedom — to craft their own approaches to pressing issues. The question is when will the courts — or anybody inside the beltway — acknowledge that fact?

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