In a good Sunday story for the Tribune, reporter Rudi Keller looks at the desire of some in the General Assembly to revisit the idea that state governments can nullify actions taken by the federal government when they get the hankering.
As Keller reports, this matter was mostly settled in centuries gone by. But that won't stop Missouri legislators from revisiting the issue! Last week, the House passed a bill handled by Rep. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) to give the General Assembly the non-existent ability to 'authorize' any "federal mandate." This sort of thing sounds nice for the tea party types, but would be an essentially meaningless bit of state law.
Sen. Jim Lembke (R-Lemay) has his own bill "to re-establish state sovereignty," along with a...unique understanding of how this whole America thing works. "I don't need nine [Supreme Court] justices to tell me what [the Constitution] says," declares Lembke.
From the tail end of Keller's story.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says the Constitution and laws enacted by Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land” and that public officers “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution…”
Nullification was first tried in 1798 in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Kentucky and Virginia passed resolutions nullifying the laws within their boundaries. No other states joined Kentucky and Virginia. “Its repudiation in 1798 showed that it was not the wish of the founding generation,” said David Konig, a Washington University professor who specializes in pre-Civil War political and legal history.
During the civil rights era, nullification focused on defying federal courts. Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus used the National Guard to block desegregation, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to escort black children to school. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, said states cannot nullify federal court decisions.
For many scholars, the ultimate test of federal supremacy was the Civil War.
But Lembke doesn’t see it that way.
“I look at it the same way I look at bad precedents. Why isn’t the Constitution the supreme law? It is not who won a war or bad decisions in a court. I can read the plain language. I don’t need nine justices to tell me what it says,” he said.
Of course, we have the third branch of government to navigate issues when there are disputes about what the Constitution says, or to protect the citizenry when sanctimonious politicians like Lembke claim powers that go beyond what the Constitution allows. I assume that Lembke knows this, but his comments definitely call things into question.
"Nuh uh" is not exactly a compelling argument when it comes to ignoring unanimous Supreme Court decisions, hundreds of years of case law and historical analysis of what the founders had in mind about what the Constitution was meant to do.