Ron Paul and the Dred Scott Decision.
Referring back to Ken's post of last week on the odd fellows who surround the media's newly discovered darling Ron Paul, the original artist may have a follow-up post on the topic. What I have to say is in no way intended to steal Ken's thunder.
One of the things that makes Paul such a delightful eccentric on the political stage is that he interprets the Constitution strictly and literally. One consequence of such an interpretation is a federal government of vastly diminished powers, arrived at by way of the Tenth 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.") So for instance, if the Constitution doesn't explicitly give the federal government power to donate food to the starving children of India, those children must starve, assuming that Sally Struthers can't make up the difference. The BATF, CIA, DEA, EPA, FBI, FDA, IRS, NSA, all of those agencies regulating or policing things not provided for in Article I? Unconstitutional.
Now it's generally accepted among judges and lawyers, and by "generally accepted" I mean "unanimously except for the John Galt Professor of Constitutional Law at Al's Not-Necessarily-Certified College of Law of Alpine County" that the federal government has authority to legislate in a number of fields not specifically named in the Constitution, as part of its authority to regulate "Commerce" among the States and to pass laws "Necessary and Proper" to the administration of its specifically enumerated powers. Thus we have our nominally federal system, a marriage of equals between the United States and its constituent states where the feds, like a husband on Lifetime Television for Women, decide what to watch on tv, what the states can wear, who the states can see, while the states are allowed to clean the floors and cook dinner, and you better not burn it this time Mississippi!
Ron Paul, to twist that metaphor further, is like a special effeminate man-friend to the states. He believes they should be the empowered partners in the relationship, and maybe they should have a relaxing facial at a spa away from the kids, because that's the way a strictly literal interpretation of the Constitution says it should be. But like all special effeminate man-friends, Paul and his sort are ineffectual and limp-wristed. They've been getting a beating from those who support a relatively powerful federal government, which is everybody else, since the 1930s.
"But Paul is principled!" the libertarians with and without capitals cry. "We may not want to abolish Federal highways, but he's honest and he's probably right, historically speaking." It is true that the framers probably didn't intend to enshrine the right to a federally subsidized abortion in the Constitution. It's also true that much of Paul's appeal to libertarians, as opposed to the media who are all about Iraq, is that he's perceived as an uncompromising champion against those who believe that Congress, a federal judge, or some alphabet-soup bureaucrat should have the final say on whether your children brush with fluoridated toothpaste or celebrate Kwanzaa in school.
Except there's this little problem. Paul has introduced legislation to require all of the states to respect the concealed-carry firearms permits of other States, and he wants that enforced in federal court. In Pauline America, I, as a concealed carry permit holder of North Carolina, would be able to pack heat in Massachusetts, New York, or any other state where the citizens have decided for themselves that no one should do so. This would be a breathtaking expansion of federal power, even from a Pauline perspective. It would give virtually anyone the right to challenge state gun convictions in Federal court, and would grant virtually anyone the right to carry a pistol anywhere. All it would take for a convicted felon to acquire a concealed-carry license good anywhere in America is one state with lax residency laws and minimal permitting requirements. If a Las Vegas wedding is valid in South Carolina, why shouldn't a Texas concealed-carry license be valid in Vermont? In Pauline America, it would be, because Congress says so.
Dr. Paul is a champion of local government, except perhaps when it comes to what many of his followers view as the one legitimate function of government: keeping people from killing one another. Paul recognizes that different approaches may suit different localities, but if someone wants carry a concealed firearm, the least restrictive state makes the rules for everyone else. But if the federal government has the power to prevent states from enforcing their gun ownership laws within their borders, surely it has the power to interfere in other areas. Why should a citizen of Delaware, which has no sales tax, be required to pay a sales tax when he travels to another state? If Paul believes that the federal government has the power to intervene in local lawmaking on the gun question, it must on every question. And where does it stop? What if Wisconsin decides to issue drunk-driving permits to stimulate the beer industry? If Paul is correct that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, does that mean that Massachusetts can give its citizens abortion permits which must be respected in Texas?
The first decision by a court that I can think of which asserted federal power to the extent that Paul seeks, by implication, over state law is Dred Scott v. Sandford. In that case, by holding the right to own one specific type of property sacred, Chief Justice Taney, surely as good a libertarian as Ron Paul, ended up paving the way for a massive expansion of national government and the abolition of the property he sought to protect.
Fortunately for gun owners, Paul isn't likely to become Chief Justice any time soon.