The Federalism Problem with RAWA

justice 2Even as the rise of the Internet has driven communications and economic growth to heights previously unimagined, some lawmakers are using that very explosion as pretext to expand the federal government’s power and reach in ways that threaten the delicate balance of powers inherent in our federalist system.

A key example is a new piece of legislation called the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act,” or RAWA. Introduced in the House as H.R. 707 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the bill purports simply to update the half-century-old Wire Act, originally signed by President John F. Kennedy to combat the influence of organized crime. A deeper reading of the new legislation reveals a troubling assertion of federal authority over conduct typically regulated by states, with far-reaching implications for the concepts of limited government and federalism in the Internet Age.

RAWA’s supporters say it modernizes the law to cover Internet transmissions of illegal interstate bets. Given that the Wire Act was written well before the Internet was conceived, its text currently only refers to telephone or wire transmissions. But lurking beneath the surface of that “technical correction” is a hugely problematic provision that overrides state laws to license and regulate gambling. The provision effectively renders illegal any use of the Internet to conduct bets, even when that bet originates and terminates in a state where it is legal under state law.

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