Restricting and Enforcing Interstate Travel

The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) In the last few months, the Republican vision for the US has come into stark relief. In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision in which the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade Republican-controlled states have been clamoring over each other to pass draconian laws restricting reproductive freedoms. This has led to a wide disparity of laws governing access to abortion. Heavily Democratic states such as California, New York, and Massachusetts have continued to protect a woman’s right to have an abortion while more conservative states like Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas have severely restricted this right.

The difference in these laws means that women may travel between states to get access to abortions and medical professionals will send abortion relation medicines across state lines. That will inevitably raise questions and probably court cases around interstate travel and commerce. In its most extreme form, some states may decide they need to monitor women who travel out of the state.

In the last few weeks, unrelated to the new abortion laws, Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have used state funds to send migrants to the US who entered the country in Texas to Washington DC, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard. These were political stunts by Abbott and DeSantis aimed at demonstrating to their right-wing national base-DeSantis is the leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2024 if Trump does not run-that they are tough on immigration.

These two developments may seem to have little to do with each other, but taken together they present a very bleak picture of where the Republican Party, and the MAGA cult from which it is largely indistinguishable, are taking the US. If the Republicans continue to get their way, this will be a country where migrants are wantonly sent from state to state so ambitious politicians can boost their poll numbers and fundraising, but women who cross state lines will become targets of suspicion. That is a right-wing dystopic vision that would impress even the most cynical reader of Orwell or Atwood.

The abortion issue is only one of many issues, including Covid policy, LGBT rights, access to the ballot, and what can or cannot be taught in the classroom in which the difference between how Democratic and Republican-led states are governed is very stark. While the specific issues may be newer, there is a long history in the US of a broad variance in governance from state to state. That is an unavoidable outcome, some might say a major goal, of the American federalist system.

The dynamic regarding DeSantis and Abbott flying migrants around the country, as well as the new abortion laws in many states, are more than just a case of some states being more conservative than others. Rather, they raise questions about interstate travel that threaten what is left of the cohesion of the country. American law, the Constitution, and history have long been clear about interstate travel and commerce. Citizens are allowed to travel freely among the states unless they are in trouble with the law, or before the Civil War if they were slaves. Similarly, interstate commerce has long been governed by federal law. States are not allowed to put tariffs on goods from other states; nor are they allowed to ban bringing goods across state lines. 

Restrictive abortion laws in some states will challenge those longstanding aspects of American law. Those challenges will very likely end up in front of the same reactionary Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year. If women, who might be pregnant are suspected of criminal activity when they cross some state lines, or because they receive a package in the mail that might contain abortion-related medicine, the US will not only become a much less free country, but it will become a much less functioning and cohesive one. Functioning unified countries do not limit the movement of goods or people within their own borders.

Sending migrants from one part of the country to another, a practice that looks an awful lot like kidnapping also highlights another way the US is no longer a functioning cohesive country. Abbott and DeSantis have both argued that this tactic is a way to draw attention to immigration, an issue that, according to them, does not affect more northern states. This would come as a surprise to people in places like New York which has been a gateway to the US for well over a century. The history of immigration notwithstanding, DeSantis and Abbott disagree with the Biden administration on immigration policy so are reacting by, as governors, making interstate policy, something which has long been the jurisdiction of the federal government. 

States seeking to wrest power from the federal government and the federal government trying to do the reverse is a theme that goes back to before the Constitution, but the current trend is a sharp turn away from a strong federal government and back towards a disunified country of states, in this case primarily southern and conservative states, acting aggressively towards other states. That may sound familiar, and extremely concerning, to Americans.

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