Today's 'states' rights' crowd: just a pressed suit away from anti-civil rights rednecks

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A slew of state legislators around the country, including in North Carolina, have got it into their heads that states can refuse to adhere to federal laws. They’re believers in the “Tenther” movement, whose members quote the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, saying that the powers not delegated to the federal government "are reserved to the states" or to the people. To put it very mildly, their argument is open to debate. The Constitution’s so-called “Supremacy Clause” in Article VI has long been held to mean that a federal statute voids state laws that contradict the federal statute. Moreover, there is an Everest-sized mountain of case law that overwhelmingly supports the view of federal law’s supremacy. In fact, no court has ever upheld a state effort to nullify a federal law.

At least 12 states are “opting” to refuse to go along with last year’s health care reform law, including North Carolina, and have launched a joint lawsuit to that effect. Other state legislatures have gone farther, including Texas and New Hampshire, where they would exempt locally made guns and ammunition made in those states from federal regulation. In Utah, lawmakers even passed a law declaring that the state can claim federal lands through eminent domain. In Arizona, state senator Russel Pearce, the guy who came up with that state’s infamous “Show Me Your Papers” law (now tied up in federal courts), wants to establish a panel that would review all laws coming out of Washington, and could "vote by simple majority to nullify in its entirety a specific federal law or regulation.”

North Carolina may have more “Tenther” legislation to contend with, too. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Glen Bradley, part of the new Tea Party wave that helped the GOP take over the General Assembly, is gathering co-sponsors “for bills that would exempt North Carolina farmers and firearm merchants from federal regulations if their goods are made, sold and used within the state.” Bradley’s actions came after Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow) introduced a resolution that declares "North Carolina's right to claim sovereignty over certain powers." The AP story quoted Rep. Cleveland, who was busy channeling the spirits of secessionists past, saying, "The federal government should not be dictating what we do in the states."

Now, if you have a grasp of American history, you know that these guys are, at best, pissing into the wind. What’s worse is that they’re on the verge of lighting a powder keg they’ve dug up from the cellar of U.S. history. For such self-declared students of history, these Tea Partiers don’t seem aware of how past efforts by states to overturn federal laws turned out. In the “Nullification Crisis” of the 1830s, during the presidency of Waxhaw native Andrew Jackson, South Carolina declared itself unbound by a federal tariff. Pres. Jackson, declaring that the Constitution “forms a government, not a league,” essentially told the South Carolinians that if they insisted on carrying out their “nullification” of the tariff, he would send federal troops to enforce the law, and would hang the nullifiers’ leader, John C. Calhoun. Soon, Calhoun & Co. agreed to a compromise worked out by Sen. Henry Clay. Late in his life, Jackson said the one thing he regretted the most about his days as President was that he “never got a chance to shoot Clay or hang Calhoun.” In addition, if memory serves me, there was another little set-to in American history that revolved around some states who disliked federal policies so much, they wanted to secede from the U.S. That one didn’t end too well for the nullifiers, either.

The point? The new nullifiers, including those in the N.C. General Assembly who voted to join the lawsuit against health care reform, are obviously historical ignoramuses, only a generation and a pressed suit away from the rednecks who spouted the same bogus arguments for states’ rights during the civil rights movement. These folks are playing with fire and don’t seem to give a damn that what they’re espousing has long been considered, at best, illegal, and at worst, treasonous. If they’re OK with the potential consequences of their actions, then, hey, go right ahead. If this new bout of “nullification” becomes a real crisis, though, and the state lawmakers who led the charge wind up in jail, here’s one writer who won’t miss them one bit.

Pres. Andrew Jackson: no patience for nullifiers
  • Pres. Andrew Jackson: no patience for nullifiers

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