Ken Connor

From the earliest days of our republic, it has been well understood that the powers of the federal government are limited in scope. To ensure against federal encroachment on the rights of the states to regulate matters within their own borders, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution provides that those powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution "are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Limited central government is one of the underlying principles of conservative thought.

Another principle that under girds conservative thought is the notion that people ought to be accountable for the consequences of their actions. Conservatives know that accountability and responsibility run hand in hand. If wrongdoers are not held accountable for their wrongdoing, they will persist in their bad behaviors.

The faithful application of these principles has helped create the freest and most prosperous country in the world. Sadly, however, these principles are crumbling and, surprisingly, many a conservative is wielding the sledgehammer.

For the past few years, the Bush administration has been waging a war of "preemption" against state and local government control. Preemption is a doctrine that holds that when Congress legislates extensively in an area relating to commerce, state or local governments are precluded from enacting any conflicting requirements. In other words, Congress is deemed to have "preempted the field", and state and local governments have no further say in the matter. Preemption is a power that should be sparingly applied because it undercuts state and local control. Conservatives have long been proponents of local control because they know that government closest to the people works best. Federal bureaucrats far from the scene are unlikely to be responsive to the concerns of people at the local level.

It should, therefore, be disconcerting to conservatives that bureaucrats in various federal agencies in Washington , D.C. (agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) have been expanding their control by including preemption language in bills that increases the scope of their jurisdiction. Often this language is inserted at the last minute in order to avoid detection and debate. Once in effect, the preemption language is used to eviscerate the authority of the states to regulate in the areas that are under the control of the agencies.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.