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Friday, November 1, 2013

Federalism, Secession, and Privacy

Federalism remains much in the news. Though states cannot secede from the Union, it is possible (albeit difficult) for a group of localities to secede from an existing state to form a new one.  At, Alan Greenblatt writes about an election that will happen soon:
There's a big race right now to become the 51st state.

Forget traditional contenders like Puerto Rico. In several existing states, residents of less populous areas are hoping to create new states of their own.

Citizens in 11 mostly northeastern Colorado counties are among them. They'll vote on Nov. 5 whether to break off and form their own state. Many are unhappy about liberal state legislation they believe reflects the values of the Denver-Boulder corridor, but not their part of the world.

"We're rarely listened to when it comes to legislation," says Butch White, the mayor of Ault. "I'm sure the vote will pass in Weld County quite easily."

The Colorado counties aren't alone. There's been occasional talk of secession at various times in recent decades, but now the idea is showing signs of taking root across the map.

There is talk about and sometimes movement toward secession in several states. These are locally motivated startups, but they share some themes in common.

People in mostly conservative areas feel isolated living in states controlled by Democrats. Rural residents, in particular, believe their values are given no respect in capitols now completely dominated by urban and suburban interests.

Secession may be part of the same impulse that leads states to sue or otherwise try to block or nullify federal laws they don't like. People are losing respect for institutions that don't reflect their preferences and would prefer, to the extent possible, to extricate themselves from them.
The New York Times reports that states are playing their traditional role as laboratories of democracy.  Unlike the federal Constitution, some state constitutions contain explicit protections for privacy.  The issue remains hot:
State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.
Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws.
“Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”
“It can be counterproductive to have multiple states addressing the same issue, especially with online privacy, which can be national or an international issue,” said Michael D. Hintze, chief privacy counsel at Microsoft, who added that at times it can create “burdensome compliance.” For companies, it helps that state measures are limited in their scope by a federal law that prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce