When Justice Kennedy suggested that he might vote to invalidate DOMA on the ground that the Constitution does not give the Congress the power to define the family, many liberals were cautioned to be careful of what you wish for. In the current political constellation, liberals favor a strong Federal government with generous interpretations of the powers conferred by the Constitution. This is understandable given the conservative attempt to block the New Deal and the Southern emphasis on state’s rights which served as a proxy to enable continued race discrimination. Of course, it is integral to liberalism to support strong legislative power to enforce the Civil Rights Amendments. And the Court’s stingy interpretation of section five of the fourteenth amendment strikes me as a betrayal of clear constitutional principles. (You would almost think the Civil War was never fought).
But the favoring of strong commerce power seems to me to be less integral to liberalism or the left and more a product of path dependence. I am not suggesting that the Federal government should not have the power to regulate the national economy and I regard the conservative claim that Congress lacked power under the commerce clause to enact the Affordable Care Act to be indefensible (even though the claim was accepted by five of the Justices). But I think the Court was right to say that Congress lacked power to outlaw the possession of a gun near a school. It may play well to the folks back home to know that their congressman opposes guns near school, but the commerce clause argument wrongly assumes that federal intervention is needed for a local law enforcement problem while relying on remote commercial effects.
For those who think it is a mark of the left to demand centralization, I would merely observe that the Students for a Democratic Society and Gandhi were strong proponents of decentralization. I doubt many conservatives would regard them as fellow travelers.