Monday, June 25, 2012

Arizona and State Sovereignty

In the U.S., we use the term "State" to mean a subdivision of the United States so frequently that we've forgotten what it really means.  A political state (or sovereign state) is classically defined as a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, has a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. (Thanks, Wikipedia--they're great for noncontroversial information.)

Thus, the United States of America is a political state.  Canada, Mexico, Germany, and such are states in the political sense of the term.  The next natural question would be, "Why are subdivisions of the political state of the United States of America called states instead of provinces, then?"  The answer is that they retain most of the rights of a political state, because the original 13 colonies saw themselves as independent political states.  They did not see themselves as provinces the way Canada has provinces.  They were sovereign states with very few limitations on their rights under the Constitution.  That is why the commerce clause exists--to prevent unfair treatment by one political state by another within the union, not to regulate every behavior of every individual in the state.

The SCOTUS ruling on Arizona's not so new and not so controversial law undermines the Constitutionally-preserved status of the states as nearly sovereign political entities and basically  turns them into provinces, as Justice Antonin Scalia dissented:  "If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign state," wrote Justice Scalia.

So, we've thrown the 10th Amendment out, and instead of calling our subdivisions states we might as well be honest and start calling them provinces.


tom said...

"...instead of calling our subdivisions states we might as well be honest and start calling them provinces."

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even in mid-sized states like Minnesota or Wisconsin, there's no great rationale for grouping the interests of the rural and urban parts of the state under one government. Their needs and interests are just too divergent to be in this middle zone of sovereignty that state governments have. It might be better to go one way or the other, with rural and urban sections exercising more sovereignty apart from the state government, or both being under the firm arbitrage of the federal government. And if that's true of mid-sized states, it is definitely true of California, which, at least in its current situation, would be better of either splitting into three or four sections, or just letting the federal government have a crack at solving its problems.

Mark said...

Whether it's a good thing or not is debateable. Whether it's the United STATES or not isn't.