Sunday Politics: Catching up on Correspondence part 1

Today is moving day, but I think I have enough time to follow up on a couple comments I got from last week’s politics posts.  First up, Andy Sellars is on the road to legal authority (godspeed) and dropped some Con Law theory on us about the current tremors in our drug policies, reprinted below:

there’s a popular theory amongst Con. Law scholars called “laboratory theory,” which says that one of the advantages of federalism and dual sovereignty is, when faced with a issue with a lot of different policy angles, we can allow different states to adopt different policies and see which works best, before instituting a nationwide system. We did this to some degree with labor law in the years before the New Deal, with the structuring of discretion in judicial sentencing for crimes, and we could (should) do with drug laws. Justice O’Connor wrote a wonderful opinion to that effect the last time state and drug laws collided in the courts, and I have a feeling that’s influenced Holder somewhat.

Interesting times we live in, eh T?

Damn straight. The times they are a Changing.  I’m a big fan of federalism for the staple ‘culture war’ issues: drug policy, marriage equality, I would even entertain (heresy!) abortion federalism.  Matt Yglesias wrote a very good post the other day considering the laboratory theory and impugning state governments, but his points are macroeconomic, defensive of a wide berth for the commerce clause, and indict the lack of media attention or appetite for state & local journalism. It seems to me that if hot-button social policies were federalized, national politics might shed a few layers of spin for a while, while state politics might get more of the needed attention, fostered by an increased competitive spirit among state governments.   If and when a need for federal policy on such issues re-emerges, a variety of real-world policy options can be judged in context and on merit.

In high school, my friends and I used to say we were going to buy a remote desert island. Our two main exports were going to be sand and political thought.  Well, the sand part is quickly becoming true of America apparently, and this would be one way to maintain our recently regained reputation for political innovation.  I dare you to rap that last clause. Jesse Jackson would.

I first heard about laboratory theory in an Intro to Con Law course I took as part of poli sci senior year, and I think of it as a libertarian solvent to clear liberal/conservative political blockage. It could promote a ‘live and let live’ cultural ethos.  On the other hand, it could also separate and then concentrate political and cultural extremes geographically, increasing the culture chasm and destabilizing the federal umbrella.  Or you know, do both to varying degrees and hopefully in the right ratio. Anyway, the economic situation now definitely encourages and necessitates state experimentation.  So in New Depression America, cross-country roadtrips will be even more vibrant and diverse, and we’ll have a gritty New York City again.  Louis CK was right.

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