Speaking with host Marc Clair in a Lions of Liberty Podcast interview released last week. Libertarian National Committee Chairman Nicholas Sarwark denounced Ron Paul’s support for states’ rights. Sarwark made the comments after, twenty-five minutes into the interview, the conversation turned to discussing Paul who has run for president three times, including once as the Libertarian Party nominee. Sarwark says that Paul “had policy prescriptions that were straight-up wrong and anti-libertarian.” Continuing, Sarwark calls Paul’s support for states’ rights “not a libertarian position.”
Of course, many people who consider themselves libertarians support states’ rights, as do many people who have run for office under the Libertarian Party banner. Indeed, 2016 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson, whose campaign Sarwark spent much of the interview praising, has spoken positively of states’ rights.
Paul succinctly explained the connection between states’ rights and the protection of liberty in his December of 2002 editorial “What Really Divides Us?” in which Paul wrote:
States’ rights simply means the individual states should retain authority over all matters not expressly delegated to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution. Most of the worst excesses of big government can be traced to a disregard for states’ rights, which means a disregard for the Ninth and Tenth amendments.
Paul dedicated a chapter of his book Liberty Defined to a discussion of states’ rights. Paul starts off the chapter presenting the relationship between states’ rights and the United States Constitution:
Technically, states don’t have ‘rights’ — only individuals do. But states are legal entities that are very important in the governmental structure of the United States, of course. They serve as a kind of bulwark against an overweening federal government. The Constitution was written with an intent to protect the independence of each state by establishing for the states a very limited relationship to the federal government. States do have a ‘right’ under the Tenth Amendment to retain all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. Systematically over the years, this understanding has been destroyed.
A defense of ‘states’ rights’ today generally elicits the charge that this is nothing more than a plot to restore some kind of ancient servitude. This claim really is preposterous. Jefferson believed in states’ rights. Even Hamilton had to play lip service to the idea. An attack on the very notion of states’ rights is ultimately an attack on the form of government that the Founders established.
A prominent example of states’ rights ideas being used to advance protection of liberty and oppose US government abuses is state governments deciding to withdraw, completely or in part, from participation in the war on marijuana. This is an exercise of states’ rights that Paul has repeatedly praised, including in a November interview with Future of Freedom Foundation President Jacob Hornberger in which Paul said the US government has “thrown up their hands” in response to states’ going their own way on marijuana laws and predicted we will see much more “nullification” by states of portions of the drug war.
Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.