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 has largely focused on three areas: gun control; health care; and national standards for driver’s licenses. It’s touched off fierce fights 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.
In 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 efforts 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.