Friday, April 11, 2014

States' Rights Forever. Except When We Don't Like What They Do.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee about states which have at least partially legalized possession of marijuana. He was reminded this is not your father's GOP.  (Graph below is from Pew Research Center via Salon, displaying growing support for legalization of marijuana, though far from the best reason to do it.)  Politico reports

Panel chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) wasted no time going after Holder on the issue, raising it before the attorney general had even opened his mouth.

”Attorney General Holder announced that the Justice Department would stop enforcing the federal marijuana ban against persons who comply with state medical marijuana laws,” Goodlatte declared in his opening statement.

“The Justice Department’s decision not to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in states whose laws violate federal law is not a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a formal, department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress"...

Near the end of the almost-four-hour hearing, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) again raised the marijuana issue, arguing that Holder’s decision to limit marijuana-related prosecutions was part of a pattern of the Obama administration ignoring statutes and legal provisions that it does not like.

“One of the laws of the land, which is federal law from 1970 — 10 years before I was ever born, that says that marijuana is a violation — the sale or possession, is a violation of federal law. What do you say to those kids, when you’re in the classrooms and they ask why you choose to enforce certain laws and some laws you don’t enforce?” Smith asked.

Holder sought to turn the tables on Smith, asking if he favored a policy of prosecuting every marijuana possession case at the federal level.

“We have limited resources. I don’t think you are meaning to suggest that the federal government should prosecute every possessory marijuana case in that exists in the United States, which technically we I suppose would have the authority to do,” the attorney general said during the pointed but generally mild-mannered exchange. “That’s not what you’re proposing, right?”

“The law of the land … says all marijuana is a violation — of even one marijuana cigarette,” Smith said. “I’m asking you. You’re the attorney general of the United States … I’m asking why you fail to enforce the laws of the land, Attorney General.”

“Your premise is wrong. We are enforcing the laws of the land,” Holder said. “The question I have for you which you haven’t answered is: Would you have us prosecute every marijuana possession case that exists in the United States of America? Would you have us do that?”

“When you actually answer my colleagues’ questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer yours,” Smith replied.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no,’” Holder shot back.

Digby notes Holder

an African-American, had to sit there and listen politely to a bunch of white conservatives criticize “states’ rights” and insist that he deploy his jack-booted federal thugs to put a stop to it.

You heard that right. The party that has made a fetish of states’ rights ever since … well, ever since about 1776 … attacked the big bad federal government for failing to uphold federal law against the express wishes of the citizens of the sovereign states who went to the ballot box to legalize marijuana. It seems we’ve misunderstood all these years:  The states are only sovereign when they’re denying equal rights to their citizens. If they think that individuals have a right to use a reasonably harmless substance that brings both pleasure and pain relief, the federal government has an obligation to intervene. Good to know.

There is recent precedent to Republicans casting aside their legendary concern about states rights in favor of opposing President Obama in everything he says and does. Thirteen months ago

The Obama administration voiced concerns over a GOP bill to block state welfare waivers but stopped short of threatening to veto the measure Tuesday.

In a statement of administration policy, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) slammed the House bill (H.R. 890) for seeking to hamper "innovative" programs that would help more welfare recipients find work.

The administration also said the bill would have "no practical effect," given that no states have applied for or been given waivers under welfare reform.

Federal health officials touched off a firestorm last summer when they announced that states could apply for greater flexibility under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in exchange for moving more welfare recipients into jobs.

Republicans criticized the move as an attempt to weaken welfare's work requirement, and it became an issue in the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday, OMB praised the GOP bill for reauthorizing TANF but said it was "disappointed" that the measures includes an "unnecessary bar to innovative welfare-to-work strategies."

"The administration notes that this flexibility was requested by governors on both sides of aisle to allow states to test new, more effective ways to place more people on a path to self-sufficiency," the statement read.

Occasionally, Republicans do evince a love for states' rights, although they avoid the term, which is famous for keeping blacks "n their place."  George Will, for example, currently is advocating a balanced budget amendment, recognized by Charles Pierce as "the worst idea in American politics."  Will's support, Pierce realizes, is explainable as "The government has done things he doesn't like on behalf of people for whom he doesn't give a damn."

But to most GOP politicos, a preference for state sovereignty must give way to reinforcing Washington's approach to marijuana, which the federal government inexplicably classifies as a Schedule 1 drug.   Perhaps it is a strategic move, positioning the party to attack Obama and the Democrats as "soft on crime" (an oldie but goodie) because the Justice Department, short-handed by design of congressional Republicans, is applying its limited resources elsewhere.  Or perhaps the real target is medical marijuana and the frightening realization that the health or comfort of someone, somewhere may be improving.

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