The Supreme Court
Separating Government Powers
Today states' rights arguments are a battle cry heard primarily from the right wing of society that believes in weakening federal power. The major battles supporting a strong federal government were won during the time of the Marshall Court, as we discussed in Marshall Court.
During various times between the Marshall Court and the Rehnquist Court, the ebbs and flows of court politics did revitalize the state's right cause, but there hasn't been much interest shown by the Supreme Court in defending states' rights since the battle over the New Deal legislation in the 1930s, as we discussed in Ebbs and Flows of Court Leadership. Most believe the lines in today's battleground were redrawn in 1995 when the Supreme Court struck down the federal Gun Free School Zones Act in United States v. Lopez, which we'll discuss in this section.
Numerous cases since Lopez have shown the Rehnquist Court's preference for states' rights over federal control, but the winds seemed to be shifting again with two shocking cases whose rulings were announced at the end of the Court's 2003 term—Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (involving the Family Medical Leave Act) and Lawrence v. Texas (striking down the Texas Sodomy Law).
In this section, I'll review the constitutional issues at stake in states' rights cases. Then I'll discuss several recent key Supreme Court decisions.