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Past and Present

Is The Balance Of Power Changing?

Lucas Hayas / Flickr / Creative Commons

Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, the federal government has been the center of power in this country. However, two recent developments suggest that this may be shifting.

On January 1 of this year, based upon a referendum vote in November 2012, it became legal to obtain marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use in Colorado. Although federal law mandates that the possession, sale and manufacturing of this drug is illegal, in August 2013, the U.S. Justice Department indicated that it would not challenge the new Colorado law. For the thousands of people currently incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses, this new reality is both confusing and insulting.

Another recent development occurred on April 22, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2006 Michigan law that made it illegal for publicly funded colleges to use race as a criterion for student admission decisions. This ruling seemingly now allows states, even those with disgraceful histories related to institutional racism, to create race-related laws with no fear of federal intervention.

History suggests that when states perceive themselves to have an inordinate amount of power, the consequences can be tragic. The U.S. Civil War is a dramatic case in point of this. One can only imagine where the contemporary articulation of “states' rights” sentiment is headed.