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Congress should not micromanage criminal justice in the states

By Scott Tibbs, August 21, 2008

In its August 19 editorial, the New York Times argued that Congress "should close the loophole that allows states to continue to confining truants." Actually, Congress should carefully read the Tenth Amendment, which very clearly limits the power of the federal government and gives significant power to the states.

While it has become fashionable to ignore the Tenth Amendment, the Constitution is the law of the land and must not be brushed aside for what is politically expedient at the moment.

Confining juveniles for truancy might be bad policy. If it is bad policy, the state legislatures should update the various criminal codes to deal with truancy in a way that does not involve confinement. But that decision is rightfully, and constitutionally, made by state legislators. It is not appropriate for 535 legislators in one city on the East Coast to be setting criminal justice policy for all 50 states.

It is important to remember that a federal government with the authority to limit the ability of the states to confine juveniles for truancy also has the authority to push for anti-crime policies that are destructive to individual liberty. At least some of the excesses of the "war on drugs" are thanks to federal involvement.

Absent violations of civil liberties, the federal government should not micromanage criminal justice policy in the states. Let the state legislatures - and ultimately, the voters - decide what policies are best for their states.