Some in South Carolina want to nullify Obamacare.
Pursuing an archaic legal theory that punctuated pre-Civil War disputes between the federal government and states, South Carolina state Rep. Bill Chumley last week pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would criminalize implementation of President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law.
If his bill becomes law, any state official caught enforcing the healthcare law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and “must be fined not more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
Federal officials caught enforcing the law, however, would be given stiffer punishment under the proposal.
Any federal employee or contractor enforcing the law “is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both,” the bill proposes.
“I think we’re within our rights to do this,” Chumley explained to U.S. News. “It’s an obligation, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the people.”
Nullification is a controversial topic (those interested in it should pick up Tom Woods’ book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century), and the more historically ignorant commentators will tie the practice to the south’s fight to maintain slavery. But it’s worth remembering that states such as Wisconsin attempted to use nullification to dismiss the Fugitive Slave Act, allowing them to protect runaway slaves in their states.
The idea is that the union is a creation of the states, created by the compact of the Constitution, and that states are not obligated to follow laws which violate the terms of that founding document. Additionally, the states are the final arbiter of what is and is not constitutional, not the federal courts. Which makes sense. More often than not, the Supreme Court as a branch of the federal government is going to side with federal authority over state authority.
This isn’t about secession, this isn’t about provoking another Civil War, though Obamacare supporters will no doubt cast the effort as both because that’s how we talk about politics these days. You don’t merely disagree with the other side. The other side is a bunch of extremists.
Rather, this is about a sovereign US state deciding through the democratic process that a given federal law falls outside of the bounds of the powers they gave the federal government when they ratified the constitution.
Thomas Jefferson believed the states had the right to do that, and for good reason. The federal government ought not be passing laws the states don’t want to follow. And we had a check on that happening once upon the time. It was called the US Senate, whose members were initially appointed by the states. But now that the Senate is popularly elected, rather than representing the state governments, nullification is more important now than ever.