Is Federalism Conservative?

Sure it is, but I bet you’ve never heard of these anti-federalists before!

The New York Times editorial Monday was typical of — pardon the abuse of the term — the “anti-federalist” argument. After referring to federalism as “a euphemism for a rigid states’-rights legal philosophy,” the Times then bemoans the outcomes in a series of federalism cases argued by Sutton. The Times and the Ralph Neas brigade therefore seem to suggest that by virtue of these outcomes, federalism is little more a code word for any number of other -isms with which they disagree, including conservatism.

But by casting stones at those who adhere to (or in Sutton’s case, merely argue on behalf of) federalism, the Times and the liberal-advocacy groups simply demonstrate their misguided belief that the Constitution is an accumulation of policy preferences rather than a body of law. While the idea that law actually means something ordinarily sends shivers up a liberal’s spine, it shouldn’t in the case of federalism. Contrary to our liberal friends’ assumption, federalism is not necessarily conservative. Rather, federalism is a series of constitutional rules, and as rules cut against both conservative and liberal positions alike. Yes, federalism will disappoint those who think that the only solution is a national one, but in terms of policy outcomes, federalism proves itself to be a neutral dealer.

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