Opinion: Do we want states’ rights to supersede unalienable rights?

“(L)aws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. … We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” — Thomas Jefferson

Our laws have, in general, progressed as we have as a people as we attempt to truly live up to the lofty ideals put forth in the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, our march through history is the story of various groups demanding their “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” be recognized by the government.

Our nation has always provided more rights and freedoms for some than for others.

For example, in the event of a disaster, public officials may plead with you to donate blood to save lives, but they can’t force you to violate your own bodily autonomy to save the life of another. If your blood or bone marrow would save the life of a 2-year-old, the state would not force you to give up your bodily autonomy to save that life. No one would charge you with murder for letting that 2-year-old die, even though you could have saved them with your body.

We recognize the right to bodily autonomy of corpses. You must be an organ donor to save lives with your body parts. Even if your organs could save five other lives, we have agreed that someone else’s right to life doesn’t supersede your right to bodily autonomy — even after you’re dead.

There are all sorts of ways we’ve stated that some people’s rights are more important than others. Some states decided that a person’s right to control their “property” was more important than another human’s right to life and liberty. As a result, we got a patchwork of laws that said your basic rights as a human depend on the state in which you live.

We just had a lavish celebration for a document insisting “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are “unalienable.” But in the past, we’ve restricted access to the ballot box, one of the best ways to maintain these rights. We put restrictions on whom consenting adults could marry — a major way our society recognizes the pursuit of happiness. All sorts of restrictions limiting access to these “unalienable” rights, from redlining practices to birth control access, mark our history.

The Supreme Court has, over time, recognized the importance of overturning precedents that limit these rights. Today’s court, however, seems determined to return us to a situation in which your “unalienable” rights depend on where you live. Do we really believe that “states’ rights” supersede the rights of the individual for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Are we prepared to return to a time when your “unalienable” rights are what a state legislature tells you they are?

Miranda Marquit, Master of Business Administration, is a nationally recognized personal finance expert, writer, speaker and podcaster. She is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee and a candidate for the state Legislature.