President Donald Trump told a gathering of governors including Kansas Governor Sam Brownback that his administration will do all that it can to restore the authority of the states. That may not turn out to mean what it seems to mean, according to a University of Kansas law professor.
“On a political level, it’s been my sense that people become pro or against state rights depending how it butters their bread,” said Lumen “Lou” Mulligan, Director of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy at the University of Kansas. “Stereotypically, we think of conservatives as being pro state rights, but we often see many conservative politicians being against state legalization of marijuana, for example, where if you were a consistent pro state rights person you might say, well then the states can legalize marijuana if that’s what they want to do or they can legalize self-assisted suicide. On the other hand, you stereotypically think of the Democrats as being pro-federal power, but you’ll see now and continuing through the Trump administration, I bet you dollars to donuts, a bunch of state rights arguments coming from them. You’ve already seen them being very supportive of state action on the travel ban.”
Mulligan says federalism arguments are not traditionally partisan.
“They use those arguments to further particular policy goals which are seen as progressive or seen as conservative,” said Mulligan. “I think that there are policy goals which are pro-federal government, that are seen as conservative at times. Then, there are pro-progressive positions, which are seen as federal at times. I don’t think either party sticks religiously to one view or the other.”
Trump said that states have to be allowed to compete to see who has the best solutions. Mulligan thinks that voters just want to see solutions and the method isn’t as important to them.
“I don’t think that the average voter has a really deep commitment to state rights, as opposed to particular policy goals that he or she believes are important,” said Mulligan.
Mulligan says Trump seems to be much more pragmatic than someone who would say always and forever that states are in charge.