Modern-day politics has bred a litany of cafeteria constitutionalists. Whether championing freedoms of speech, gun rights or religion, or using the commerce clause to excuse any overreach of federal powers, modern-day constitutional scholars seem as good at picking and choosing select passages from the document as others do in selecting limited passages from the Bible to justify their positions.
The 10th Amendment has become the favorite highlight reel for many Republicans as of late. It is often used to reject the overreach of federal powers and invoke state sovereignty on issues where the federal government may have overstepped. It reads:
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.
The people of North Georgia were quite fond of quoting this amendment during the four contests held in 2010 for congressman from the 9th District, all of which elected Tom Graves. Courtesy of redistricting, Graves' district has been moved a bit to the west, and there is an open seat in Georgia's 9th. A runoff is now under way between media personality Martha Zoller and State Rep. Doug Collins, both of Hall County. A recent poll shows the two in a close race, with Zoller leading at the upper end of the margin of error.
An unfortunate turn of events in recent GOP primaries is that when a race is close, divisive social issues often trump the issues on which that elected official will likely be able to have an impact. Policy is thrown out the window in lieu of establishing holier-than-thou ground on gay rights, stopping illegal immigration, or halting the spread of Sharia law, which many seem to think is ruining their everyday life. Campaigns that should be about visions of the future are reduced to preying on root fears of often mythical problems.
Collins released a video via campaign email showing clips of Zoller stating affirmative support for civil unions. Zoller responded with customary denials, claiming the various references were "out of context." An email circulated Wednesday by Zoller's campaign claims Zoller does not support civil unions and Collins' research is flawed.
Civil unions are what conservatives have often offered as an alternative solution to gay marriage. The distinction is often that marriage is a religious bond, despite that it is also a legal ceremony routinely performed without the benefit of clergy. Regardless, there is nothing religious about civil unions or domestic partnerships. They are contracts between two adults.
While the subject of civil unions and gay marriage remains sharply divided (see the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy for any needed proof), the question of the 10th Amendment should be asked when either candidate chooses to bring this topic up. Both are running for a federal office. Civil union, unlike the Defense of Marriage Act, is not suggested as a constitutional amendment. Thus it is not a federal issue. It is a subject reserved for either the states, or more properly, for the people.
No one in Congress should be setting an agenda to stop two adults from entering into a binding civil contract. It's not the proper role of the federal government.
It is hard to figure out which candidate to be more disappointed in with this exchange. Collins, running slightly behind, is attempting to bait evangelical conservatives by pitting a voting majority in his district against a small minority by obfuscating an issue and its proper federal role (or non-role). Zoller's response, equally disappointing, is to pretend she did not mean what she clearly said on multiple occasions not so long ago.
At the end of the day, the losers are the voters of the 9th Congressional District who are able to recite the 10th Amendment with little coaxing. Unless, of course, these voters really like the 10th Amendment only when it's convenient.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.