Many in Alabama were left reeling by the events of last week.
First came the Confederate flag. Stung by its prominence in the murder of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, aware of the international condemnation of the flag as a symbol in a developed nation, and conscious of what it meant to his black constituents, Gov. Robert Bentley ordered the flag removed from the Capitol grounds.
It was the right decision. Confederate flags originated from a conviction of white supremacy and a belief that maintaining slavery was a cause for which secession was appropriate. Since Reconstruction, almost every white supremacy group has proudly displayed the flag.
But despite its origin, for many Alabamians the flag represents something different. It is, for them, a symbol of states’ rights and limited government. It is a symbol of a Southern heritage that, while marred by slavery, also included good.
So the retirement of the Confederate flags at the state Capitol caused anguish.
Then came Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dashed the last, best hope of those who view the Affordable Care Act as a classic example of the expansion of federal government and the narrowing of state sovereignty.
To be sure, the law will benefit hundreds of thousands of Alabamians, from the impoverished to the entrepreneur. But for states’ rights advocates, it was another blow.
And the week ended with another Supreme Court ruling, which some view as Strike 3 in the effort to keep Alabama a sanctuary of state-protected morality. Nine years after Alabamians voted to outlaw gay marriage, Friday’s decision effectively made the wishes of what was then an Alabama majority irrelevant. While the decision was an important victory to many who struggle to claim an equal place in Alabama society and was supported by many who view protection of individual liberty as a paramount mission of government, it was one more blow to those who chafe at federal power.
In the midst of the angst over the week’s events, however, it is worth remembering the blessing that Alabamians have received from being a part of a strong nation that remains a model for the world. The United States was formed as a nation in which states’ rights were paramount. The Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1777 and ratified in 1781, created a weak federal government, with almost all power residing in the individual states.
It was a disaster. The states fought over numerous issues, from funding of an army to road tariffs to river access. It was a confederation that never could have claimed a prominent spot on the world stage, and that was vulnerable to invasion.
The result was the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which declared the federal government was supreme over state governments and which created the Supreme Court. The Union that Alabama voluntarily joined in 1819 was not a confederation of sovereign states but a nation with a strong federal government.
As many express anger at a week of three strikes to states’ rights, we hope they also will remember that the inroads on Alabama’s sovereignty are the flip side of the constitutional coin. That same coin also made the United States of America strong enough to protect its citizens from foreign foes, to be prosperous, and to be viewed a bastion of freedom throughout the world.
The preamble of the U.S. Constitution that was the source of much of last week’s turmoil says it well:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
(Published June 28, 2015)