Excerpted from Politico
Infuriated by what they see as the long arm of Washington reaching into their business, states are increasingly telling the feds: Keep out!
Bills that would negate a variety of federal laws have popped up this year in the vast majority of states – with the amount of anti-federal legislation sharply on the rise during the Obama administration, according to experts.
The “nullification” trend in recent years – which has touched off both fierce battles within the states, and between the states and the feds, as well as raising questions and court battles about whether any of it is legal – has largely focused on three areas: gun control; health care; and national standards for driver’s licenses.
n at least 37 states legislation has been introduced that in some way guts federal gun regulations, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The bills were signed into law this spring in two states, Kansas and Alaska, and in two more lawmakers hope to override a governor’s veto. Twenty states since 2010 have passed laws that either opt out of or challenge mandatory parts of Obamacare, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. And half the states have OK’d measures aimed knocking back the Real ID Act of 2005, which dictates Washington’s requirements for issuing driver’s licenses.
“Rosa Parks is the beacon of light: If you say no to something, you can change the world,” Michael Boldin, the Founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, which favors states’ rights, told POLITICO.
“Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be, ‘We, the people?’” he added. “Over the past few years you’ve seen this growing…People are getting sick and tired of federal power.”
In fact, the state-level anger at the nation’s capital has reached such a fever pitch that many of the bills do not even address specific federal laws, but rather amount to what is in effect “preemptive” nullification, wiping out, for instance, any federal law that may exist in the future that the states determine violates gun rights. The flurry of such effors was spurred by fear on the part of states that in the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that Congress would pass restrictive gun control legislation.
Supporters of nullification say it’s the best tool they have to try to beat back an intrusive federal government that they say is more and more trampling on the rights of states.
But critics respond that the flood of legislation to override the feds is folly that won’t stand up in court and amounts to a transparent display of the political and personal distaste for President Barack Obama. And in some cases, the moves in the states has provoked an administration counter-offensive: Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Kansas after it passed the “Second Amendment Protection Act” threatening legal action if necessary to enforce federal laws.
Even some conservatives – certainly no lovers of the Obama administration – warn that the states are going down the wrong path with nullification, distracted by a what lawmakers think is a silver-bullet solution, but that likely won’t stand up in the courts, when in fact there are much better (and legal) ways for the states to resist.
While most states have wrapped their legislative sessions for the year, the fight on these bills is taking only a brief pause. In Missouri, for example, lawmakers are preparing for a veto session in September, where supporters of a gun measure would eviscerate any future congressional attempts to regulate gun ownership are planning to attempt to override the governor’s veto. The nullification battle has also spilled over into the courts, with more challenges and rulings expected during the year.
In Kansas, state Rep. John Rubin sponsored successful legislation that dictates that federal gun laws do not apply to firearms and accessories made in Kansas and that never leave its borders, and makes it a felony for any federal agent to enforce those laws within the state.
The Republican lawmaker told POLITICO his bill is about states’ rights – not gun rights.
“The federal government doesn’t have the authority to do a lot of what it’s trying to do these days, from regulating guns within state borders, as my bill deals with, or telling us what kinds of light bulbs to put in our lamps,” Rubin said.
He noted a rise in the number nullification bills.
“I think we have the Obama administration to thank for that.” Rubin said. “The more federal overreach in Obamacare and elsewhere, the more [the administration] chooses to act in ways we believe are unconstitutional, the more we’re going to push back. I would encourage any state to assert to the strongest possible extent against the Obama administration, or any federal administration, rights clearly reserved to the states.”
But opponents of sweeping nullification measures paint them as misguided, often politically motivated, and likely unconstitutional attempts to zero out reasonable and well-intended federal initiatives.
And that’s not just coming from the left. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that nullification is not the answer to states’ concerns.
“There are a rising number of people who are frustrated with what Washington is doing, which is a perfectly legitimate and, in my opinion, correct view of, ‘How do we push back?’” Matthew Spalding, vice president of American Studies for Heritage, told POLITICO. “Unfortunately, there’s a minority in that group that thinks nullification is the answer, by which they mean good old-fashioned, South Carolina, John C. Calhoun nullification. That’s deeply mistaken and unfortunate.”
Spalding said states’ better options include legal challenges, not funding federal laws, or even refusing to enforce them – but not overruling federal laws with state ones.
“Ironically, the people who say they are trying to defend the constitution are doing something to undermine it,” he added. “This is sort of a Hail Mary pass. These are in most cases state legislators who are very frustrated. They’re figuring out how to stop these things, how to turn the course of the nation, in my opinion for good reason, and they’re being told the Supreme Court just upheld [Obamacare], this guy has been reelected, what can we do? And someone comes around and says, ah, you can nullify law.”
Another nullification opponent, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s prepared to fight the recent crop of state gun bills in the courts. Keep reading