WHILE the debate over state efforts to nullify federal laws has often focused on Obamacare, both liberal and conservative individuals have promoted nullification.
The Pew Charitable Trusts notes 13 states are openly defying federal drug law by allowing medical marijuana, plus Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug for straight-up recreational use. So liberals who loudly decry Obamacare nullification efforts are silent on this front. Yet if attempts to nullify Obamacare through state action are illegitimate — or even racist, as liberal critics claim — isn't the same thing true of efforts to negate federal drug law?
The Obama administration continues to defend federal drug laws, just as it defends Obamacare. How can nullification efforts against one policy be construed as a racist attack against the nation's first black president if the other is not? The answer, of course, is that liberals in general are less supportive of the war on drugs, but the love Obamacare. Nullification, in their eyes, is bad only if it goes after a law they cherish.
We take another view: Nullification efforts are irresponsible regardless of what laws are targeted. A bill just passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives makes that point. House Bill 1021 declares Obamacare is “not authorized” by the U.S. Constitution and violates that document's “true meaning and intent as given by the founders and ratifiers.”
The legislation declares the federal law “invalid” and “considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” There's just one small problem: You can't overturn a federal law with a state law. Period.
What citizens and states can do is challenge the constitutionality of federal laws through the court system. Unfortunately for opponents of Obamacare — and we are firmly in that camp — the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the law. In our system of government, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutionality. The court can be wrong, and has made some famously bone-headed decisions in the past (like the Dred Scott case). But the path to a course-correction runs through the court in subsequent cases, allowing for reversal of earlier decisions. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is currently pursing such a path by challenging different Obamacare provisions than those covered in the earlier case.
Furthermore, HB 1021 contains no actual enforcement mechanisms. And if some are added, who will be targeted? Because of the federal law's mandates, insurance companies are now required to sell family policies covering children up to age 26 as dependents. Do Oklahoma lawmakers think local insurance agents should be fined or jailed for selling those policies? Should Oklahomans have to choose which set of laws to follow — state or federal — and run the risk of prosecution either way?
The embrace of HB 1021 contrasts sharply with the treatment given Senate Bill 710 by Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. Her bill would have legalized the use of medical marijuana in Oklahoma — an attempted nullification of federal drug law. That bill failed on a 2-5 committee vote.
Senators should give HB 1021 the same treatment, either killing it outright or simply refusing to hear it. Nullification efforts, whether touted by liberals or conservatives, are bad public policy. Worst of all, they waste resources that would be better expended trying to legitimately repeal bad laws — such as Obamacare.