General Question

makemo's avatar

Why wouldn't the US have one law for all states?

Asked by makemo (531points) July 1st, 2008

Re: US state laws:

Has it ever been into serious consideration to let go of the state laws and maintain one law for the whole nation? Would it be a more efficient and non-confusional solution for the country?

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23 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Well, states’ rights was a major issue historically. It was one of the underpinnings of the Civil War. More than 200 years after our founding and in the digital and technical world we live in, the differences between the states do not seem significant, but when they were founded, each colony had very different underpinnings.

Magnus's avatar

I learned this from south park.
The US acts like it’s 50 different countries so that they can go to war, but the people opposing it. They act schizophrenic to avoid that, the people they invade, hates the US people, but they still go to war so they don’t look like fags.

marinelife's avatar

@Magnus South Park, the very best way to learn about the US.~

marinelife's avatar

Right, lefteh, but he wants to know why.

makemo's avatar

Yes, well. Coming from a very small country in comparison, Sweden, I’m trying to imagine how that would be possible here, with each province having their own laws. But then again, the size-difference might make the comparison a bit pointless.

I just wonder, though. If you have such a huge nation, wouldn’t it be better (I’m not saying it is) keeping it more together when it comes to things like law? Just curious to know what the possible advantages would be, and if the opinion is at any rate divided in this topic. Is there any debating about it?

sndfreQ's avatar

Magnus, please tell me you were quoting verbatim and that your grammar isn’t really that horrid;

As for the answer, I think that for all the homogenaiety we have in certain values, the geography, culture and multicultural identity, and social morés of various regions of the U.S. are all critical factors that make statehood practical. I happen to live in a “blue” state and can see that the majority of the population here seems to have divergent values on several issues that impact us locally; immigration is but one example.

lefteh's avatar

@Marina: I know, the link talks about the importance James Madison placed on instituting independent republican governments in the states.

sferik's avatar

One argument for states having their own laws is that it’s easier to figure out which laws work best.

For example, if California makes a change to its education system that, over a period of 20 years, increases SAT scores, other states can then adopt those changes. Having states gives you the ability to run 50 of these experiments at once and find out which laws are most effective.

robmandu's avatar

The founding fathers of the US had a deep and abiding distrust of large federal government, hence the significant restrictions they attempted to place on it. According to the Constitution, powers not explicitly granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and citizens.

The idea was to keep the majority of power/freedom with the individual and then to cede powers up only one level up at a time as little as possible.

So, by that reasoning, state government is “better” (and hence necessary) as it’s closer to the individuals that it represents. The idea being, what can people in Washington D.C. reasonably know and understand about life in Seattle (nearly 3,000 miles or 4.800 km away)? Shouldn’t there be elected representatives closer to those Seattle folks to make those laws?

And don’t underestimate the amount of power reserved for the individual in the U.S. In a jury trial, the members of the jury are not only evaluating whether a person is “guilty” or “not guilty”, they also have the unchallengeable right to decide if the law itself is constitutional or even applicable in this case. (By unchallengeable I mean that a juror can vote her conscience regardless of other jurors or the judge. There is no consequence to her doing so. She cannot be jailed for voting contrary to the opinion of any one else, be they judge, other jurors, Congress, or President.)

Of course, much of this check & balance has been effectively annulled over the last 230+ years by presidents, Congress, the judiciary, and by the People themselves. What it currently is does not necessarily reflect what it should be.

lefteh's avatar

Excellently put, robmandu. The emphasis on home rule is incredibly important.

makemo's avatar

Is there any restriction saying someone who hasn’t been living in a state can’t volunteer as a juror, until he or she has lived there for a certain amount of years?

I’m asking this, in regards to the idea that someone in Washington D.C. can’t resonably know and understand about life in Seattle.

lefteh's avatar

Well, in the majority of jurisdictions in the United States, one does not volunteer to be a juror. Rather, he is randomly selected from a combined list of licensed drivers and registered voters. As far as I know, there are no minimum lengths of residency, as long as those called for duty are indeed residents of the jurisdiction in which the trial is taking place. Jurors are educated on applicable local laws during the trial.

Standswithacane's avatar

uniform laws for federal matters affecting all states such as matters of interstate commerce (ie regulation of use and transportation of insecticides, drugs, food, etc.) and state laws for the rest (which are amazingly uniform and similar in many respects). Somewhat more detailed than that but that’s the idea.

Zaku's avatar

Robmandu’s answer is great. I’d add that there is no one right law, because people are different. There are some issues of law that people strongly disagree upon, and there are different situations and communities in different places.

For example, if one community decides to pass a law that one group insists upon but that others can’t stand, the minority at least has the option of moving. Federal laws aren’t so easy to avoid, which removes even that level of choice.

makemo's avatar

But what can possibly be so different between the states, other than peoples’ opinion about law enforcement? Isn’t all it takes, one decision from above, and the states will have to follow whatever the new law the nation settles down with?

And doesn’t it bring people in different states into unevenly beneficial positions in terms of law?

It seems like there’s a firmly rooted consensus among the americans I’ve been talking to, on this topic. Is there really no opposition for different laws?

sndfreQ's avatar

@makemo-I beg to differ; statehood in principle allows the people of that region to decide their own laws and rights based on their “shared” values. Depending on the geographic region, for example, there are very different cultural mores that affect laws and rights; the right of gay marriage is a prime example, as it is currently ratified in only two states in the union.
That particular topic relevant to today’s society, but think back to the civil rights movement and the periods preceding when the rights of “negros” were contested and valued differently between the North and South.
I also think that immigration will be another topic that will yield very different opinions and stances from various states in the union, as this topic eventually makes its way to the forefront of political debate.

Standswithacane's avatar

Our system of checks and balances can seem burdensome. Remember, we were a coalition of colonies subject to British rule before defying England by declaring ourselves Free and Independent States. Distrust of a strong central government that makes all the laws is evident in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The issue of States’ rights is still being played out. The issue was front and center, ironically enough in reverse fashion, in the 2000 election with the Florida dispute. Your question is difficult. The answer is bound up in our history. But know this: our federal government is quite strong. Furthermore, federal law, according to the Supermacy clause, is the supreme law of the land and any conflict that arises with any State’s law is resolved in favor of the federal government’s law according to the constitution. The Fed has broad powers through the commerce clause to regulate just about any conceivable thing from Snickers bars to medical devices. Many drafts of federal laws and rules are often adopted verbatim by the States as their own, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing trial court rules. Many times State laws are deemed to be the sole province of Federal authority and are thus preempted by an existing federal rule (eg, California’s attempt at mandating tougher emission standards than the Feds own EPA standards for a reverse example).

In other words answering your question in the abstract is difficult. As a general proposition I would say I am comfortable with our system of checks and balances, flawed though it may sometimes be. I can’t do the link here because I am iPhone challenged but check out the Wiki article on “States Rights.” its worth reading.

Robmandu I must address one of your comments. Jurors in all 50 states and in federal court are “finders of fact.” they decide what the facts are according to the evidence they have heard, then they apply the facts of the case to the law that has been them by the Judge. Determining what the “law” is is within the sole province of the Judge. True, jurors can and have been known to cast votes upon little or no factual basis, but when a jury panel applies the facts wrong according to what the law of the case actually is, Judges can, and frequently do, overrule a jury verdict with a Judgment Non Obstante Veredicto (or Judgment notwithstanding the verdict… Or simply JNOV).

Happy 4th of July to everyone from the Greatest Country on the Planet… Warts and all.

makemo's avatar

Ok, thanks for the great answers (all of you).

Sorry also, if it sounded like I wanted to imply my own opinion within my question. :) I was a bit sleepy as it was late last night, when I wrote my previous question(s).

But I think it’s interesting how different things work in different parts of the world, in which there seems to be one thing playing a key role in many societies today; historical values.

Cheers and happy 4th of July (whatever it means) :-)

marinelife's avatar

@makemo It is more like syttende mai than June 6th in Sweden which is a bit lukewarm, isn’t it? There are parades with kids and animals and bands. Fireworks. Also food especially cookouts with hot dogs and hamburgers, potato salad and cole slaw.

Zaku's avatar

“But what can possibly be so different between the states, other than peoples’ opinion about law enforcement?”

Some states have different proportions of people whose families originate in different cultures, and history, conditions, and whatever can lead to different opinions and traditions.

“Isn’t all it takes, one decision from above, and the states will have to follow whatever the new law the nation settles down with?”

Yes, that’s exactly the problem with Federal laws. What people decide ought to be legal or illegal is not easily agreed upon even at a local level, but on a national scale it’s even harder and also much more unfair and unavoidable for dissenters if you try to force one law for an entire continent. Examples: Abortion, marijuana, alcohol, fireworks, weapons, vehicles, legal means of self-defense, gay rights, sexual rights, school issues, other moral questions.

“And doesn’t it bring people in different states into unevenly beneficial positions in terms of law?”

Yes, in some cases. But we have at least a historical principal that laws are “by the people, for the people”, so it also provides different perspectives and room to experiment and compare different laws. For example, in Washington state we have a high sales tax (like VAT) but NO state income tax. In adjacent Oregon State, they have NO sales tax but an annoying (in the US people fill out their own tax forms) personal income tax. (And yes, Washingtonians go buy stuff in Oregon to avoid the income tax.)

“It seems like there’s a firmly rooted consensus among the americans I’ve been talking to, on this topic. Is there really no opposition for different laws?”

There’s a ton of opposition, from people in power in the Federal Government. And from some interest groups that want to impose their ideas of the “right” laws on the entire continent.

tb1570's avatar

We do have some federal laws, and we do have some laws that states can choose to follow or not (often at the risk of losing federal funding if they choose not to) and we also have individual state laws. As has already been stated previously (quite well, I might add) by robmandu, lefteh and others, the founding fathers of america had very deep resrvations about giving too much power to the central/federal gov’t, and in all likelihood they would be appalled, terrorized and disgusted by what the american federal gov’t has become in its current incarnation, and many of them, jefferson especially, would probably call for open revolt.
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, right? So how does the law process work there? Does the king/queen hold absolute power, or does most power rest in the hands of parliament?

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