How conservatives have moved to undermine federal authority

Bald eagle with plucked feathers
Bald eagle with plucked feathers Illustrated/Getty Images

One of the historic tenants of the Republican Party is a propensity for small government, which has more or less been a base ideology for the GOP since its founding. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, writes for National Review that "learning exactly what to take away must become conservatism's great project," and adds that "the art of limited government is to define what must be removed from the modern welfare state."

Many argue that stances such as anti-abortion laws, bans on gender-affirming care, and restrictions on polling places prove that Republicans are no fans of small government, and that their claims of being against federal overreach are purely hypocritical. Still, conservatives have made efforts in the past to limit the role government agencies play in the United States.

Attacks against the FBI

In recent months, many Republicans have spoken out against what they consider to be overreach by federal law enforcement groups — particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Republican-led House of Representatives has even formed a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which will have "open-ended jurisdiction to...examine how any agency of the federal government has collected, analyzed, and used information about Americans," The New York Times reports.

The committee is reportedly modeled after the Church Committee, a 1970s Senate body that examined the FBI, CIA, and IRS.

However, this committee has been unable to accomplish much so far, and has a miniscule budget of just $2 million per year, according to Rolling Stone, though there is a provision to allow additional funds. Republicans even conceded the panel "was unlikely to break new evidentiary ground in its first session," The New York Times reports, a sentiment that has so far held true. However, committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has claimed that new revelations about government overreach are on the horizon.

Fisheries case

One ongoing effort to weaken federal power is a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court next term involving an unlikely defendant: fishermen. The case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondochallenges a law that controls federal regulations of maritime fishing. While there is a federal requirement that government observers be onboard larger fishing vessels, the fisheries may also be required to pay this observer's salary themselves, which Loper Bright argues the federal government does not have a legal right to do.

If the Supreme Court finds in favor of Loper Bright, it would fundamentally overturn the 1984 ruling of Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. This established the often-cited "Chevron deference," which says that states should defer to the federal government on issues that are ambiguous — such as federal regulations on fishing vessels.

Republicans have long held that the Chevron deference gives the federal government too much power. Given the court's 6-3 conservative majority, there's a seemingly high chance that it will rule in favor of overturning the ruling. This could create additional barriers for federal agencies, and "would have major implications for the Biden administration's climate agenda," Politico reports, by creating roadblocks for environmental regulations passed by the White House.

Rewrite the Constitution?

Conservatives have been attempting to rewrite the Constitution for years to craft it further in favor of Republican interests and limit federal power by holding a new constitutional convention, Insider reports. The outlet notes the behind-the-scenes plan to try and rewrite the Constitution "is a sprawling, well-funded — at least partly by cryptocurrency — and impassioned campaign taking root across multiple states."

Rick Santorum, a former GOP senator, can allegedly be heard pushing for a convention in audio obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive government watchdog. Two-thirds of U.S. states — 34 of them — would need to approve a convention, and Santorum reportedly pushed for red states to join him in the effort.

But could Republicans actually garner the votes for a convention? It's never happened before, but 19 GOP states have so far ratified a convention resolution. Eric J. Segall, professor of law at Georgia State University, tells Newsweek, "When they get to 27, 28, I'll start to worry," downplaying the chance of a rewritten Constitution but also cautioning that "America is at a very, very critical point."

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