Understanding Rick Perry’s views on states’ rights

Facing pressure from social conservatives in the weeks leading up to an expected announcement of his presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been cautiously clarifying his views on the balance between states' rights and federal power.

In the past week, Perry has walked back comments that state governments should be free to determine their own policies on gay marriage and abortion and come out in favor of amendments to the United States Constitution that would ban both in all 50 states. Just days after Perry said he was "fine with" New York allowing gay marriage, he announced his support for a federal amendment that would overturn the state's new law. He also told the Houston Chronicle on Monday that he believes the federal government should take the same steps to ban abortion through an amendment.

So which is it? Does he believe in states' rights or doesn't he? The answer, Perry insists, rests in the intricacies of the amendment process, which he says allows him to support states' rights while cheering on a change to the Constitution that would restrict them.

Since a constitutional amendment requires approval from three-fourths of the state legislatures to pass, Perry argues, a federal amendment banning gay marriage does not constitute a federal power grab, even though it would effectively overturn standing state laws.

"The states' rights are still protected," Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told The Ticket, "because it would require three quarters of the states to ratify it."

Essentially, Perry supports overturning state laws so long as most of the other states agree to do so. It is when Congress passes laws alone that impede on the states that Perry has a problem.

"It wouldn't just be Congress saying, 'You know what, y'all can't do this anymore,'" Cesinger said. "It would be Congress proposing this, and then it would have to go back to the states to ratify."

Perry has a long history of outspoken opposition to federal laws that infringe on local rule, but only recently has he been forced to hash out the details of his political philosophy. His 2010 book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington outlines a passionate case for increasing the power of the states. In an interview with National Public Radio about the book, Perry said that states should have more liberty to craft their own policies, even if that means some states allow gay marriage, legalize abortion or provide universal health care.

"If you want to live in a state that has high taxes, high regulations—that is favorable to smoking marijuana and gay marriage—then move to California," Perry said.

Voters will have a chance to determine for themselves whether Perry will be able to reconcile these views. The governor reportedly plans to announce his run for the presidency within the next few months.