States’ Rights vs. Federal Power: The USA’s Most Enduring Debate

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James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that “The powers” granted by the Constitution to “the federal government are few and defined,” while those granted to “the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” Yet Article VI of the Constitution also established the supremacy of U.S. laws over those of the states. On October 20, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society continues our series on the Constitution with a history of our 9th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. Not only do they continue to impact the rights of our citizens and states today—they are at the heart of the United States’ enduring debate over sovereignty. Our featured speaker for this necessary and timely conversation is Michael W. McConnell, J.D., the Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School.

We will discuss why Madison and Hamilton initially thought a Bill of Rights would infringe on liberty, not protect it; why the Framers couldn’t agree on Federal authority—and how this ultimately led to the Civil War—and the impact of Federalism on today’s most important policies effecting gun laws, immigration, civil rights, and health care.

McConnell is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. From 2002-2009, he served as a Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He was nominated by President George W. Bush, a Republican, and confirmed by a Democratic Senate by unanimous consent. Professor McConnell argued 16 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr. He was Assistant General Counsel of the Office of Management & Budget, Assistant to the Solicitor General of the Department of Justice, and a member of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board.  His most recent book is “The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution.”