Oregon Versus the Feds

Jeff Alworth

By my accounting, the Feds have challenged the state of Oregon four times, and every time come up empty. The most recent setback was by a plan backed by power and agricultural industry and approved by the Army Corps of Engineers that would have reduced spill from four Columbia and Snake River dams. The effort was intended to save ratepayers money, but a federal judge in Portland rejected the argument, saying that "the long-term environmental health of the region outweighed the short-term economic benefits of increased hydroelectricity production this summer."

(The other three setbacks came after John Ashcroft over-reached by trying to enforce his own interpretation of the law. He tried to shut down assisted suicide, medical marijuana, and then ran into trouble trying to prosecute the innocent Brandon Mayfield.)

So then, is it any surprise that in a recently-released report, OSPIRG found that the feds have a habit of meddling in states' affairs?

In the findings of the report (joined by Oregon AG Hardy Myers, Oregon's Deputy Insurance Administrator Joel Ario and Floyd Lanter, Administrator of Oregon's Division of Finance and Corporate Securities) OSPIRG observed:

As the stories and anecdotes from state legislators and regulators included in this paper show, federal preemption has often tied the hands of state legislators and regulators eager to solve problems facing their constituents. But this preemption hurts more than the residents within one state’s borders. Federal preemption suppresses the creativity of state problem solvers and shrinks the marketplace of ideas--leaving us with “lowest common denominator” solutions.

Federal activism is particularly damaging to a state like Oregon--as our battles over the past four years demonstrate--because we have long been at the forefront of innovative public policy. The irony is that until four years ago, conservatives argued for very strict interpretations of the US Consitution. They decried "judicial activism" (never mind that most federal judges were appointed by Republicans). But once Bush v. Gore went their way, they forgot about all that restraint. All of a sudden, those pesky states rights enumerated in the tenth and eleventh amendments seemed bothersome.

All Oregonians should be alarmed by OSPIRG's. The "states' rights" crowd is usually identified as conservative. But it's clear that in the case of Oregon, it's not so much a matter of conservative versus liberal, but one of control. I'd prefer to keep as much of it as we can in Salem, not Washington.

[Correction: As Kari pointed out, I inadvertantly omitted the information that the judge ruling on the spills case was a federal judge (first paragraph). The text has been corrected.]

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    Of course, if we're going to consider the Mayfield case a setback for the Feds in Oregon, then we need to count the Portland Six/Seven terror case as a win for the Feds in Oregon.

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    Just a bit of clarification... The judge in the spill case was a federal judge, not a Portland judge - though he is physically located in Portland.

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    I'd call that one a draw--or even an Ashcroft failure (if not an Oregon win). Although all members of the Portland Seven were convicted, none was convicted of a terror-related crime. I detailed Ashcroft's failures at Open Source Politics.

    In particular, in order to secure the convictions, Ashcroft had to offer extraordinary deals to members of the "seven." Worse for the government, challenges to the evidence gathered under the Patriot Act forced some of the deals--de facto admission that the rulings would have gone against the government. To convict the final two of the "six" (before Maher Hawash), the government used a civil war era statute banning "seditious conspiracies." Every one of the Portland seven will serve less time than John Walker Lindh.

    Ashcroft called the Portland Six's capture a "defining day in America's war against terrorism." It turned out to be--a day that defined the limits of the Patriot Act and government overreaching in prosecuting "terrorists."

  • brett (unverified)

    Jeff, I think your point is well taken about preemption - it discourages innovations and probably makes problems worse. Medical marijuana and assisted suicide are prime examples of that. California's stricter emissions standards are another excellent example.

    But remember that the judge that freed Mayfield was also a federal judge. Neither the Portland 7 nor Mayfield cases really involved the state of Oregon at all - both were entirely within the federal criminal system.

    I think we should distinguish between public policy preemption, which would include environmental, drug, and medical policy, and prosecution of terrorism defendants. I don't think anyone would seriously argue that the state of Oregon should prosecute terrorists, but most people would agree that Oregon should decide whether assisted suicide should be legal.

    You're also right, btw, about Republicans' hypocrisy when it comes to states' rights. I wouldn't say "conservative", though, because when Republicans assert federal control over areas traditionally left to the states, they are not behaving in a conservative fashion.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    -- As I recall, the Portland Several spectacle began in a slapdash surprise arrest at the airport for having 'traces of explosive (or was it gunpowder) on a briefcase.' Which later turned out was false, wasn't any, prejudicial treatment. -- Taken together, the pattern is that there is no terrorists to be caught who American military and CIA did not train and deploy. This includes Timothy McVeigh in the Gulf War recruits, and Lee Harvey Oswald and Osama Bin Laden in the CIA, (see especially 'Who Is Osama Bin Laden,' by Michel Chossudovsky, and related material at GlobalResearch.ca -- not dot com, dot c a ), and includes the anthrax murderer(s), wherever hidden, who sent three Democrat senate leaders lethal exposures and sent Congress into fear-filled disorientation before the key vote on the Patriot Act against justice and individual rights. -- Does a state have, or do you think a state should have, call on federal investigation and prosecutors when a state's resources are overmatched by criminal networks? By that reason, the crimes which feds don't follow could be discussed under this post topic. I believe more injury occurred because A.G.Ashcroft did not sooner come here to clean out criminal perversion conspired in the Catholic Church. (The only religious sect to require sexual abnormality (celibacy) of its leading figures.) Now look at the mess, and crime, that has grown. --


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