It is true that our constitutional design allows that states can be the laboratories of democracy, but the slogan is incomplete. It comes from a 1932 case, where the Supreme Court struck down a state regulation that it thought arbitrarily required vendors of ice to obtain licenses, unlike vendors in other industries. Justice Louis Brandeis dissented, arguing: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
That last part is key. While the Constitution allows states to govern their internal affairs, it also provides mechanisms to protect everyone else from their poor decisions.
Biden is doing just that, leveraging the power of the federal government to protect citizens from the impacts of the ill-informed policies that are enabling the virus to continue mutating and spreading throughout the population. Enacting a new emergency rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or tested weekly is a big step in the right direction. But it isn’t nearly big enough.