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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

James Madison, Ebola, and States' Rights

At yesterday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked about Ebola:
Q Doesn’t that kind of create a patchwork of policies that can confuse the public, might even encourage people to game the system, lie about what they encountered when they’ve been in West Africa when you don’t have an overarching federal policy that rules?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, we were talking about this a little bit earlier, Jim -- anticipating your question. I mean, some of this is -- in some ways, you can sort of take this up with James Madison, right? We have a federal system in this country in which states are given significant authority for governing their constituents. That is certainly true when it comes to public safety and public health.
At the same time, I think that you have seen a strong working relationship between states across the country and the federal government. What we believe is important -- and I think is a view that is shared by governors and local officials across the country -- is that these kinds of policies should be driven by science and the best scientific advice that is available. We have experts at the Centers for Disease Control and at HHS that have been dealing with Ebola outbreaks for decades now. And there is a body of medical science and research that should guide the implementation of these policies, and we’re going to work closely with states and localities to do exactly that.
Indeed, James Madison wrote in Federalist 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
Earnest seemed to suggest that federalism was an obstacle or a complication.  At other times, though, progressives have found great virtue in federalism.

President Obama has even used the controversial term "states' rights."