States Rise up Against Federal Overreach

There was a significant development this week in the ongoing battle over the proper scope of the federal government's authority. Sixteen states filed a brief opposing the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) effort to block the Boeing Co. from building a new manufacturing facility in South Carolina. The NLRB initiated proceedings against Boeing to prevent the company from building the new facility in South Carolina - a right-to-work state - on the ground that it would adversely impact unionized Boeing employees in Washington state. In doing so, the NLRB called into question plans that involve billions of dollars in new investment and could significantly impact the competitiveness of the U.S. aircraft industry.

The states that filed this brief come from diverse perspectives. Some are right-to-work states, and some are not. Nonetheless, they are united in their opposition to the NLRB's action, which they firmly believe will harm the ability of states to attract new businesses. According to these states, the NLRB proceeding will not only directly harm states like South Carolina that have adopted right-to-work laws, but also non-right-to-work states, which will lose business as companies fear that creating jobs in these states could prevent them from opening new operations in right-to-work states in the future. Indeed, these states argue that the NLRB's new policy could encourage companies to locate their operations outside the United States to avoid being subjected to the NLRB's jurisdiction.

The NLRB's action is part of a disturbing trend. Increasingly, the federal government is interfering with the interests of the states not through legislation passed by the Congress, which would be undesirable in its own right, but through the decisions of unelected bureaucrats in various federal agencies. While members of Congress ultimately must face the voters and may therefore feel constrained in their ability to intrude in matters that are best left to the states, the federal bureaucracy often feels no such constraints. To the contrary, the motivation of federal bureaucrats is often just the opposite - to continuously increase the centralization of authority in the hands of the federal government and, in turn, dramatically increase their own power.

This general tendency has only been magnified under the Obama administration, which is ideologically disposed to favor increasing centralization and power of the federal government. Its unprecedented actions in expanding the federal government are well documented. From its bailout of the automobile industry to its attempt to nationalize the health care system, the Obama administration has continually sought to expand the federal government's authority.

The states' opposition to such actions represents a welcome check on this ever-expanding scope of government power. Whether through legal challenges to Obamacare or in voicing their opposition to bureaucratic actions such as the NLRB's in the Boeing matter, these efforts increasingly are playing out in the courts. At this crucial juncture, one can only hope the judiciary will remain steadfast in adhering to the traditional restraints on government power.

The division of power among various entities, such as the state and federal governments, ensures that no single entity amasses too much power. It also leads to more effective decision-making, allowing for a range of approaches by different decision-makers. The NLRB's recent action and its potentially adverse consequences show the wisdom of this system. The states should remain free to make their own policy determinations, without fear that they will be overturned by the federal government, much less by an unelected federal bureaucracy.

Douglas G. Smith is an adjunct scholar at AEI.

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