Ok, maybe my title is a bit of an overstatement. Granted, podcasts on issues surrounding the law are rarely outside the confines of “wonk,” somehow our resident Constitutional Law scholar Professor Rob Natelson makes constitutional law, legal matters and history consumable even at my level. His latest iVoices.org podcast is on judicial federalism. …Judicial whaaaattt?
Let me explain. Like the Founders themselves, the center-right today is a big fan of federalism – aka states’ rights. The Constitution is a document that outlines enumerated federal powers. Whatever not enumerated is left to the states and people. This way, we have 50 separate locations for testing public policies. 50 “test tubes of innovation” reveal what policies work and what policies fail miserably. (i.e. Romney-care in Massachusetts anyone?) Conservatives rightly point to federalism’s rich history and practical advantages when it comes to things like commerce and regulating economic affairs. However, federalism as it pertains to the law, civil justice, and the courts rarely, if ever, gets discussed. This is where Professor Rob Natelson comes in.
He argues in his blogpost that the Colonists were just as likely to be heard screaming, “leave our law alone” as they were “no taxation without representation!” The idea that the Crown ought not to interfere in Colonial civil justice matters was essential to the early patriots. Indeed, early pamphleteers mentioned among the many grievances against the King the injustice of British interference in strictly American judicial matters. Consequently, these early cries for judicial federalism were woven into our nation’s founding documents.
Today, “conservatives” in Congress are pushing for a federal medical malpractice reform bill – HR5. In other words, they like federalism and states rights – except when it comes to judicial matters. Then they want Washington, DC to impose its will on state law. Of course this is nonsense and Rob explains exactly why in this important paper, The Roots of American Judicial Federalism. As Rob says in the podcast, “what’s Constitutional isn’t always what I like. And what’s unconstitutional isn’t always what I don’t like.”