Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
May 18, 1998
Federalization of crime contrary to Constitution

Last week, Congress moved our nation closer to a national police state by further expanding the already-unconstitutional litany of federal crimes.

Of course, it is much easier to ride the popular wave of federalizing every misdeed, than to uphold a Constitutional Oath which prescribes protection from what is perhaps the worst evil imaginable: totalitarianism.

What Member of Congress, especially in an election year, wants to be portrayed as soft on crime or deadbeat parents, irrespective of the transgressions against individual liberties and a trampling of our Constitution?

The federal government was designed to be limited in power. In fact, there is a strict enumeration of the spheres in which Congress is allowed to act. For every other issue, only the state governments or the people, in their private market actions, enjoy constitutionally protected right to those powers. The tenth amendment is brutally clear: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. "

But rather than abide by our constitutional limits, Congress recently passed two pieces of legislation - neither containing a shred of constitutional authority - which, of course, were "non-controversial" despite moving us further from the notion of a limited government. One piece of legislation pledged that the Congress will "pass legislation that provides the weapons and tools necessary to protect our children and our communities from the dangers of drug addiction and violence." Setting aside for the moment the practicality of federal prohibition laws, an experiment which failed miserably with alcohol in the 1920s, the threshold question must be: "under what authority do we act?" Whether any governmental entity should be protecting individuals from themselves and their own stupidity is certainly debatable; whether the federal government is constitutionally empowered to do so is not. Being stupid or brilliant to one's sole disadvantage or advantage, respectively, is exactly what liberty is all about.

The second legislative fiasco was the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998. This bill expands federal criminal law by imposing more sanctions on those who fail to meet child support obligations imposed by individual states. Further, the bills shifts some burden of proof from the federal government to the accused, a radical departure from the American notion of "innocent until proven guilty." Even worse, this legislation seems to reintroduce the notion of federal "debtor prisons," a vestige of the past best left in the past.

Perhaps more dangerous than either of these items individually is what they represent collectively: a move towards a federal police force. Constitutionally, there are only three federal crimes: treason against the United States, piracy on the high seas, and counterfeiting. Despite the various pleas for federal correction of societal wrongs, a national police force is neither prudent nor constitutional.

The argument is that states are less effective than a centralized federal government in dealing with individuals who flee one state for another to avoid prosecution. The Constitution preserves the integrity of states, and provides the means for them to exact penalties from those who violate their laws, and the Constitution provides for the return of fugitives from one state to another. There is, of course, an inconvenience imposed upon states in working with one another, rather than relying on a national police force. But there is a greater cost to individual liberty from a centralized police power.

There is a simple, sound reason to maintain a system of smaller, independent jurisdictions -- it is called competition and, yes, governments must, for the sake of the liberty of the citizenry, be allowed to compete.

When small governments becomes too oppressive, citizens can vote with their feet, moving to a "competing" jurisdiction. If, for example, one state has a high income tax which the residents feel is inappropriate, they can move to Texas (as many have done) to keep more of their earnings. But as government becomes more centralized, it becomes more difficult to vote with one's feet. There must be ample opportunity for citizen mobility: to proper governments and away from those which tend to be oppressive. Centralization of criminal law makes such mobility less and less practical.

And the federalization of every problem takes us further and further from the Constitution, and liberty.