States' rights and wrongs | Bleader

States' rights and wrongs


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When I see Jonathan Rauch's byline I read the story. Simple as that.

In this month's Atlantic (available here if you're too stingy to subscribe), he argues that gay marriage should be left to the states, as abortion rights should have been -- because such a patchwork nonsolution will make the issue less attractive to extremists on both sides, and allow democracy and compromise to do its work.

About abortion rights, it's an old argument (that the Supreme Court should have butted out) and in some ways an appealing one, but now that he's generalized it I have my doubts. Are Second Amendment issues less extreme because they're usually fought out in states and cities? Did Illinois' Stephen Douglas succeed in defusing extremists on human slavery in the 1850s with his doctrine of popular sovereignty?

Let's leave aside the question of which of these rights exist and how they should be regulated if they do exist. There's a knotty question of political philosophy here, and one that doesn't seem to appeal much to the echo-chamber blogosphere on either side. (As Rauch amusingly documents, Mitt Romney, who's no Stephen Douglas to be sure, has come down firmly on both sides.) So -- when should the universality of justice trump local option?

Don't be too quick with the answer -- murder laws differ from state to state, and what could be more important than the right not to get murdered?

There are legitimate universalizing tendencies on both sides: folks on the left tend to think that your rights shouldn't depend on your address; folks on the right tend to think that the market functions more smoothly when people aren't terrified of living in South Dakota or Mississippi.