Overheard on CNN.com: Where do state and local laws end, federal authority begin?
A tour group meets at sunset in downtown Tombstone. The "town too tough to die" worries it's going to run dry.
May 11th, 2012
07:28 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Where do state and local laws end, federal authority begin?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Tombstone, Arizona, which has a population of 1,400 people, is suing the federal government about a water line that was damaged in last year's massive Monument fire. The city says the federal government is blocking emergency repairs that are critical to its survival. Lawyers for the federal government say there's no emergency and that Tombstone is using the fire's aftermath as an excuse to "upgrade and improve" its water system. This story, and a few others that are being talked about, raise questions about the authority of the federal government over local and state governments.

Showdown at the H2O corral

A lot of readers said the federal government should not interfere.

TRussert: "This is totally and completely absurd. Let the town fix/improve their water needs and this will all be over. No species is going to suffer from this and the land will not be disturbed. In the meantime, all this bickering and letter of the law nonsense is just costing taxpayers unjustifiably. It's not like they want to drill for oil, which apparently has more success in being done on federal lands now, what idiocy. Doesn't anyone know that Federal Lands belong to the people? Someone with common sense step up and end this BS. We have real problems to deal with here. We don't need made-up ones on top of them."

Amegioa71: "This is the kind of thing that drives us crazy in the southwest ... the government won't lift a finger to control the border, but they'll prevent a town from using a wheelbarrow to repair its water line ... the government treats its people and their needs like they are the enemy."

Some wondered if there was something more going on here.

ryuujin: "Based upon the soap opera story presented here, there has got to a lot more than what has been explained. Therefore, don't blame the federal government until the WHOLE story is known. Start with following the money and why was the mayor who seemed to be getting the pipe fixed recalled?"

These readers think there might be a balance.

wolfpackbob: "Hopefully there will be some cool heads on both sides to find a reasonable balance. Surely damage to the land and the line by an instantaneous 500 years of erosion qualifies for some give-and-take on both sides. Someone needs to manage the lawyers on both sides."

Kodes100: "Shouldn't some common sense prevail here? Both of the main objectives can be achieved without this turning ugly because of politics. Get real. Tombstone can have water and the environment can remain safe!"

LtMDF20: "Common sense should prevail ... but unfortunately when the federal government is involved they bring no sense whatsoever. It is a no-brainer to allow the proper equipment to be brought in and get the problem fixed quickly and then get out. This mentality of protecting the environment at all cost is just stupid. You can have rules to protect it but also allow for common sense issues to be resolved. Just because repairs are made with the proper equipment in no way means that the area is open to other things like drilling or construction. that is just stupid. People never cease to amaze me with their ignorance."

Some are just sick of it.

setnommarih: "Federal this and federal that. Frankly, I've had enough of federal this and federal that."

PlayNice: "Let them fix their own water line, end of story. This has nothing to do with Obama, it's federal bureaucratic bs which knows no party limits – morons spring up all on their own."

CorndogsFTW: "The law is the law. What good is the law if you do not follow it? Then we would be having all of those despicable gay people getting married."

Speaking of marriage, a big states' rights debate this week has taken place about the issue of same-sex marriage.

Obama's change on same-sex marriage comes after voters reach turning point

Should the issue belong to the states or federal government? These readers disagreed.

clarkkent09: "All Obama said is that, while he personally supported the gay marriage, it should be a state issue, which is what Republicans are saying as well. It's all election-time smoke and mirrors."

Poitay25: "You know, they said that the Civil Rights Movement should be a 'state issue' as well. When a segment of the population is being treated with inequality, it is as federal as it gets. Hopefully Obama will take his new found evolution and step up after he gets re-elected."

One person opined that the federal government has a role in the decision.

Biden apologizes to Obama for marriage controversy

The following commenter discussed the interaction between the "full faith and credit" clause  in the U.S. Constitution, which says that states should honor each others' laws by default, and the Defense of Marriage Act. The latter allows states to refuse recognition of a same-sex marriage that took place in another state. Therefore ...

jb226: "It is pretty much the only thing standing in the way of one state determining that gay marriage is legal everywhere in the country. ... That means that they (states) have a HUGE amount of authority on gay marriage. Will Obama try to repeal it? I doubt it. Politicians are too gutless. I think politicians on both sides understand that gay marriage is ultimately going to be permitted by the courts. Republicans get to decry activist judges and throw up their hands in disgust without actually being forced to vote against gay rights, while Democrats get the victory they want without actually having to defend gay marriage itself. For an inevitability, that's actually a really good outcome for both of them. But to say the federal government has no authority about (gay) marriage is false. In fact there are even more ways they have power over it (such as if or how they defend it in court - which Obama has ordered the Justice Department not to do), but this post is long enough as it is so I'll leave them for another day and another commentator."

Religious definitions of marriage vs. legal marriage has been an interesting question pondered by some.

Cameron Robb: "If marriage is a religious event, then the doctrine of the church decides who can and cannot be married. This is a private function and is protected by the Constitution.  However, a legal marriage in America is a contract authorized by the state.  It contains allowances for tax relief and numerous other benefits. Any citizen of America has the constitutional right to access this arrangement. There are plenty of religious people in America, but America is not a religious country. Religious doctrine has no legal standing against the Constitution in the public arena."

Timeline of an 'evolution': How Obama made his same-sex marriage decision

Many readers said they believe it's a no-brainer that the issue is being fought out in the states.

MerlinX4: "Obama: I am personally in favor of gay marriage, but I'll leave it up to the States to decide. Romney: I am personally opposed to gay marriage, but I'll leave it up to the States to decide. Why is this a big deal again?"

ksuflash: "I love how people think Obama actually did anything with his 'announcement.' He took the same position as Dick Cheney, which is let the states decide. They have different views, but both say let the states decide. Is Cheney 'courageous'? Much ado about nothing ..."

Gliese581gg: "I like how the Right diverts the attention to why Obama made the announcement. Instead of having to be engaged as to why they disagree with the opinion, they can hold off their disrespect for the principles this country was founded and fellow US citizens until after the election. 'And saying let the states decide is the template answer from a Republican for any question.' Apparently it's now the template for a Democrat as well ..."

FlotsamJetsa: "Reality is it still depends on the individual states, so Obama didn't have to go out onto too big a limb. People who hated Obama have an issue that they can latch onto if they wish. People for him do the same. Political forces wash here."

Zack Morris: "I don't see any discriminatory laws. Even Obama himself agrees that states have the ability to do just as NC did last week, and define marriage for themselves. Do you disagree with Obama? He doesn't think it is discriminatory, why do you?"

Now, switching back to Arizona again, the issue of federal authority also pops up in the case of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has spoken out against a civil lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.

Arpaio: 'I will fight this to the bitter end'

Is the federal government obstructing the states?

hody45d: "Aside from any accusations and whether they are true, why do we have all of these inmates that can't speak English? The Federal government continues to ignore the problem on our southern border and then fights any attempt by states to try to solve the problem themselves. How did the DOJ become so corrupted? That is one department that should not have appointees placed by the president."

Is this an issue of civil rights, and can it be considered under federal authority?

DustyJB: "Federalism is not the legal issue in this case. Section 5 of the 14th amendment and the commerce clause gives Congress plenary authority to create and enforce civil rights laws. Congress chose to enact and enforce civil rights laws precisely because southern police officers refused to enforce their own criminal laws or chose to enforce those laws discriminatorily, i.e. white prosecutors refused to prosecute a white person for killing a black person. Federalism is a political issue the sheriff raised to mitigate his culpability just like white Southern police officers and prosecutors raised the federalism issue to mitigate their culpability when the federal government sued them for civil rights violations in the '60s. The federal government is not suing the sheriff because he enforced both state and federal law when he decided to arrest illegal immigrants. The government sued the sheriff because he treated Hispanic prisoners differently than non-Hispanic prisoners precisely because they were Hispanic."

MosinNagant1: "The interstate commerce clause is grossly overused by the Federal government. What do civil rights have to do with commerce? The Federal government does not have the authority to go to any sheriff's office and demand "independent monitors" be put in that office without proving in a court of law any wrong doing has happened. It is a usurpation of the will of the people in that county. That is my whole point here."

Some said there's no way the politicians could understand.

m4xP0w3r: "Unless you have lived in Arizona, you really have no room to criticize Joe. There's a lot of tough, complicated problems to deal with in AZ that folks up north don't understand."

LeifErikson: "Arizona apparently doesn't understand that federal law trumps state law."

Or is Arpaio already going along with the feds?

northerncal10: "The sheriff is only enforcing federal law."

What do you think about federal, state and local authority? Who should step in, when? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Arizona • Joe Arpaio • Overheard on CNN.com • Politics • Same-sex marriage • U.S.
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Randolph

    I have an inherent natural divine right of self defense.

    The government derives their authority from we, the people.

    When law enforcement is competent, great. When law enforcement is inept, scared unionized cops don't want to respond into bad neighborhoods, eating donuts is safe but chasing bad guys isn't, I immediately wonder, "What am I paying you for?" Then me and my friends do it ourselves.

    And those still alive start crying about their civil rights and how they expect me to be a good victim and not fight back.

    May 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. hamsta

    it seems the more the liberals expand the government the less competent the government becomes.

    May 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      That is because Conservatives defund those programs and/or place total incompetents in charge.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      Because it was so slender and competent under Bush?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Not Too Long I Hope

    The Constltution is the framework.
    It has overarching guidelines, delineates and delegates authority, enumerates many of our Federal rights as individuals, provides and sets up the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches, and is the bedrock upon which this country stands.
    States are required to follow everything in the Constltution. It is the bedrock upon which they stand, too.

    In terms of legal authority, the Constltution is the Supreme Law over the whole country.
    As the Supreme Law, it also supersedes all other laws, like state laws, city ordinances, religious laws, and pretty much everything. This is why Arizona is wrong to make unConstltutional laws, why Congress is wrong to make unConstltutional laws like DOMA and thousands of other illegal laws that should be struck down, and why marriage laws that are not Federal are worthless. Legalisms aside, too many facets of law in this country have been usurped by the states when these things should have rightly been addressed at the Federal level.
    Water rights are a legal nightmare because they are irrational and unworkable. In my state we have a water rights case that has gone on for over 30 years without an end in sight. Many laws need to be rewritten by rational people instead of allowing these backwoods traditions to become such convoluted legal battles.

    May 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      Very well stated. I agree completely.

      May 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Not me @ 11:23.

    May 11, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jj

    What. They wanna mandate that I must have health insurance but they can't give a town flipping water? Backward ass flipping govt!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JOSE0311USMC

      THE SAME WITH ILLEGALS....ILLEGALS ARE COSTING STATES MILLIONS, BUT THE GOVERNMENT WANT THE STATES TO CARE FOR THEM, BUT DON'T TRY TO ENFORCE THE IMMIGRATION LAWS OR OBAMA WILL BE ON YOUR NECK PROTECTING ILLEGALS ...ALL FOR THE HISPANIC VOTES.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jj

    "a govt big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.". --Thomas Jefferson

    May 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Portland tony

    Never before has the old adage "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" been so meaningless.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. JOSE0311USMC

    MANY ON THE RIGHT COMPLAINT ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT UNTIL THEY NEED HELP WITH FLOODING--DISASTERS ..

    May 15, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse | Reply

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