Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell was one of 10 GOP-ers to vote against the repeal of the incandescent bulb ban last week. Here’s his excuse:
Here’s the issue I was faced with: the bill would repeal the ban on incandescent light bulbs – which is something I strongly support and want to see happen. But in studying it carefully, I concluded it also contained a flaw which made it unconstitutional. It went beyond a simple repeal when it prohibited any state or local entity from imposing standards that could be met by bulbs containing mercury. It was in reading that provision, a federal limitation on what kind of bulb that a state or locality could restrict, that my alarm bell went off. The paternalistic, power-centric culture of Congress had, to my surprise and great disappointment, burrowed its way into the bill.
As I see it, if the residents of, let’s just pick San Francisco, through their city council, decide they want to prohibit incandescent bulbs, they not only should have that right, they DO have that right. It is clearly articulated in the 10th Amendment to our Constitution.
This language restricting the rights of states and localities was not needed to accomplish the repeal and should not have been added. So an otherwise solid bill – one that fully aligns with my core values and mission while I have the privilege to serve the 2nd district – became one that I had to vote against.
In our relentless effort to contain and rollback an overly intrusive, hyper-active federal government, we must not unwittingly breach our Constitution. We must not be guilty of that which we so fiercely object to. We must be vigilant and fully consistent in returning power from Washington to the states and localities – to the People.
While it may be considerate of Virginia Congressman Rigell to be concerned about not limiting the power of San Francisco totalitarians, this is a really lame excuse as there is simply no good reason for San Francisco or any other locality or state to ban incandescent light bulbs.
First, the 10th Amendment is not a license for states and local governments to oppress their citizens. States and localities may certainly rely on the 10th Amendment to enact laws and ordinances that affect the safety and welfare of their particular populations, but an incandescent light bulb ban would have no local safety and welfare impacts.
In fact, a San Francisco light bulb ban would more likely be intended to have the opposite affect. It would likely be more of a statement intended to get other localities to also implement bans. California is famous for this sort of trendsetting, most recently with its effort to force automakers to produce so-called “California cars” that emit less carbon dioxide. In a Constitutional world, such activity would be held to violate the Commerce Clause as a restraint on interstate commerce.
Perhaps Congressman Rigell’s constituents ought, in 2012, to give him the opportunity to move to San Francisco and contemplate his Constitutional navel by the bay.