L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 324, June 19, 2005
The Government Hates and Despises Us
The Supreme Court's Assault on Individual Liberty, the Rule of Law, and Federalism
Special to TLE
The U.S. Supreme Court's just-released ruling on the issue of medical marijuana in the case of Gonzalez vs. Raich is a tragic epitome of what the federal government can do to undermine the principles of individual liberty, the rule of law, and federalism. The Bush administration, in response to the ruling, lauded it, considering that it has been aggressively trying to outlaw the medicinal use of marijuana ever since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency launched its efforts to combat its use in 2002. Of course, it should not be a shock that the Justices came to this decision, given that Bush and his collectivistic cronies have been trying to control the lives and personal and economic choices of the American citizens via many economic and social machinations, including - but not limited to - economic regulations, drug controls, immigration controls, nationalization of health care and energy, gun controls, trade controls, price controls, wage controls, etc. In this case, the outlaw of marijuana for medicinal use is a clear-cut example of why the federal government's War on Drugs is an abysmal failure and must be repealed and why the Supreme Court cannot be trusted as an institution to overturn laws which are a direct violation of the Constitution.
The case, of course, tragically reminds us of the infamous and diabolical court-packing move - known simply as the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937 - that was executed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That case effectively meant that the Court would be prohibited from declaring any use of federal regulatory authority over economic transactions unconstitutional. (Interestingly enough, this case was the first "court-packing scheme," which paved the way for other post-court-packing-scheme cases to follow later.)
Wickard vs. Filburn (1942)
Of all the early post-court-packing-scheme cases, one of the most infamous cases was simply known as Wickard vs. Filburn (1942), in which the Court held that, under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the federal government had legitimate grounds to regulate the economic transactions of an individual named Roscoe Filburn who grew crops on his own farm for his own consumption. Filing his suit against then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard, Filburn argued before the Justices that one of his crops - his wheat, that is - did not meet official production quotas, since the excess never left his property, as it was consumed there.
The Court, in turn, rejected his argument, declaring that Filburn's business activities indeed fell under the provisions of the Interstate Commerce, considering that the farmer could have, theoretically speaking, sold his wheat in interstate commerce. The Justices' rationale went further, saying that, even if Filburn had withdrawn the wheat for personal consumption, his actions had an enormous effect on prices and production in interstate commerce. In a nutshell, the Court expanded the Founders' view on interstate commerce to include intrastate commerce. This made it possible for the feds to control his transactions via a misinterpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause.
Because of this landmark decision, this set a dangerous precedent for all future court cases, making it possible for the federal government to regulate every economic activity (given the limited amount of resistance from individual entrepreneurs or the states), all because of a misguided doctrine established by the Court - a doctrine that says any good or service manufactured and consumed at the local level could, from a theoretical standpoint, have an effect on interstate commerce. Because of this, the original constitutional principles of states' rights - also known simply as federalism - and the separation of powers - powers limited and enumerated by the U.S. Constitution - would become eviscerated.
The Supreme Court's Citation of the Wickard vs. Filburn case
Using the Wickard vs. Filburn case as a guideline, the Supreme Court, in the case of Gonzalez vs. Raich (originally Gonzalez vs. Ashcroft), ruled 6-3 on June 6, 2005 that the federal government can "regulate" (prohibit) the economic transactions of medical marijuana users to grow pot on their own land. The majority also held that said users could be prosecuted by the feds for producing the drug on their property under the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 - the federal law which serves as the base for the government's failed and destructive War on Drugs.
The logic behind the decision is that the federal government can - and will most likely - arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users, regardless of whether the electorate in their respective states voted in favor of the referendums that legalize the activity (with supervision). The implication delivered by the Justices is that, if you have problems with the ruling, lobby to change the federal laws as soon as you acquire the votes needed to do it.
The Ruling's Disregard for Individual Liberty, Commerce, and Federalism
The Court's ruling has assuredly and simply destroyed the last remnants of individual liberty. What the ruling means is that the federal government can - and most likely will - employ its resources to target law-abiding individuals, especially those who are using marijuana for medicinal purposes. A self-governing individual, who uses a substance for either medicinal or recreational value, is a free individual when no other coercive institution uses its power to prevent one from making choices that would ultimately endanger oneself. The role of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of the people whom it serves. It is, however, not designed to protect people from themselves, should they ever make unwise choices regarding their own persons.
Because of the ruling, the Court is essentially saying that individuals do not have the right to make choices that do not harm others but only themselves. If the feds believe that the pot users in question do not have the right to decide what is best for them health-wise, then what can stop the government from saying that people do not have the right to make any choice, even if that decision either does or does not result in harm on themselves? After all, aren't we supposed to be, as many Americans falsely believe, a "free country?"
Individual choices, right or wrong, are the components of a true free society. Without them, we are not free but rather slaves to the state - slaves to a political behemoth that has little or no regard for human, civil, and individual rights. No matter how one would like to slice it, we are not free if the state can dictate how we can live, think, and believe, whom we can worship, what we can eat and read, and what activities in which we can engage. That is not the recipe of a free society; it's the recipe of an authoritarian police state. In a nutshell, if we are not free, we are nothing but puppets forced to please and entertain the whims of a political master.
Furthermore, the majority's decision merely attacks the rule of law as well. That can even - and does - apply to the due process of law, and, in this case, it certainly does. The Supreme Court, which serves as the judicial arm of the government, is acting on the mistaken belief that the doctrine of "intrastate commerce" established by the Wickard vs. Filburn case must be continuously accepted. The doctrine by itself is mythical, as it was invented by statist utopists who believe that the Court can - and should - be a rubber stamp for everything Congress can do. Furthermore, this means that, thanks to the Justices of the Court, the federal government has free reign to do whatever it pleases, effectively transforming itself into an institution that no longer possesses limited and enumerated powers. As Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, stated, "If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anythingand the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers."
Moreover, the decision even attacks our system of federalism, effectively voiding states' rights. The Founders never intended for the government to arbitrarily decide what states can and cannot do in a federal republic. The idea of federalism was to decentralize all forms of central planning at the federal level as much as possible. Because of the position that the Court has taken, all decisions made at the local level can now easily be made at the federal level. It's hypocritical of conservative Republicans to criticize and condemn liberal Democrats for their ardent hatred and contempt for states' rights when they have done the same as well. The only time the Republicans come out in full force to defend states' rights is when the principles actually serve their interests. When those said principles no longer do that, they abandon their support for federalism almost immediately. Of course, it's interesting to see Democrats finally defending the concept, given that they have ardently expressed their blatant hostility towards it, but this is only done to serve their interests as well. Once it stops doing that, they will abandon it without hesitation. Can we truly trust the Republicans and the Democrats to really care about federalism, when they only express that "care" just to protect their own political self-interests? Not on your life!
The Original Intent of the Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause was never intended to be a blank check for "command and control" economic regulation. In fact, it was meant to normalize commerce between the states. In effect, it was devised to establish trade and exchange, not to restrict or prohibit. Additionally, it was constructed to forbid states from enacting protectionism - that is, barriers of free trade - that would cut off the free flow of economic activity, such as tariffs, quotas, and taxes. And considering the CSA intervenes in the free flow of commerce, it surely conflicts with the original intent of the Commerce Clause.
Given the fact that the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons has never led to a single death of a user who, among other things, employed it to cure his severe, life-threatening ailment, the Supreme Court's assault on individual liberty, the rule of law, and federalism proves, once and for all, that the federal government's persecution of ill individuals like Angela Raich, Steve Kubby, and Laura Campbell typifies the morally-bankrupt mindset of the War on Drugs. It also proves that the Court and the federal government have no respect for the laws of the states that legally approved the use of the drug for those reasons.
If the American people really care about this nation's heritage of limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free enterprise, federalism, and the rule of law, perhaps it's time to not only end the welfware-welfare state and every single statist machination on the books, but also the never-ending War on Drugs - which is really a war on human liberty.