Nullifying the Federal Leviathan

As states react to Obama initiatives that press the outer edges of mainstream public policy, they are passing laws that defy the federal government and federal power.

With its polarizing policies on a range of hot-button issues, the Obama administration has sharply divided the American electorate. This has breathed new vigor into federalism, as these initiatives have invited a backlash at the state level on a comparable array of issues. In turn, these challenges to federal authority have resurrected hoary theories of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and largely forgotten political figures at the very opposite end of the ideological and historical spectrum where the current president sits.

The byword is nullification. As states react to Obama initiatives that press the outer edges of mainstream public policy, they are passing laws that defy the federal government and federal power. These states are invoking the long-standing theory they can “nullify” encroachments on their power by the federal government by passing simple state legislation.

The issues provoking this battery of opposition are familiar. Gun control, health care, national identification standards for driver’s licenses, and marijuana use have become, in recent years, the most common battlegrounds. An Associated Press analysis recently found almost four out of five states have enacted laws in recent years that seek to nullify federal laws in one or more of these areas.

California led the way, as it often does, with a 1996 medical marijuana law that conflicted with federal strictures. Across the nation, at least 37 states recently considered or implemented challenges to federal power to regulate firearms in their jurisdictions. Kansas and Alaska approved such laws this year; two others are considering overriding gubernatorial vetoes that were the last line of state-level defense against them. Twenty states have challenged or opted out of mandatory parts of Obamacare. Half the states have approved legislation to undermine the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which governs requirements for issuing driver’s licenses.

Read the rest of the article at The Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

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