WE recently noted state efforts to nullify federal laws are a dead end, a waste of state resources that won't overturn bad federal policies.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is pursuing a better alternative. In his role as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, Pruitt recently authored a column in Roll Call decrying the recent passage of laws “that dramatically extended the federal government's reach into state sovereignty” and vowed to fight them in court.
“As attorneys general and chief legal officers for our states, it is our duty to stand as the last line of defense against this overreach,” Pruitt said. He specifically criticized Obamacare and Dodd-Frank financial legislation, two laws he has challenged, as well as “outright illegal administrative actions” conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department.
More than a year ago, Pruitt noted, nine members of the Republican Attorneys General Association issued a report alleging 21 instances where federal policies circumvent “the law, the Constitution and the courts.” Those attorneys general are now fighting that overreach in court.
While previous efforts to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional fell short, Pruitt said the resulting ruling allowed states to opt out of Medicaid expansion, an important victory.
Pursuit of legal challenges is a legitimate venue for combating federal overreach, as are efforts to repeal bad laws through legislative means. Neither process provides immediate gratification; victories often come piecemeal and slowly accrue. But that is the nature of the democratic process in a diverse nation, and the outcome is far better than anything that would come from nullification efforts.
That point was recently emphasized by David Barton, president of WallBuilders, in a thorough, heavily footnoted review of the history of nullification. He concluded nullification “is a dangerous anarchic maldoctrine, cancerous and toxic to the health and vigor of a constitutional republic.”
Barton wrote: “Nullification places minority power above majority power. The majority may sometimes be wrong, but when that occurs, (George) Washington reminded Americans that changes must be made only by using ‘the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.' Very simply, don't try to fix the Constitution by breaking it; fix the Constitution through the means it provides, and nullification is not that means.”
Given that Barton is respected in conservative circles as an authority on historical and constitutional issues, his words should carry weight with Oklahomans.
President Barack Obama's emphasis on expanding federal power has undeniably made citizens far less trusting of government. In a recent meeting with the editorial board of The Oklahoman, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn noted that distrust is “almost to a paranoia level” that is “dangerous for us as a society — very dangerous.”
“Every town hall I've been to has mentioned secession,” said Coburn, R-Muskogee. “What do you think that is? It's a symptom of anarchy.”
Nullification is a symptom of that anarchic, secessionist impulse, one that solid conservatives like Coburn and Barton are responsibly batting down. There is a proper, constitutional way to oppose federal overreach. Leaders like Pruitt are pursuing it. Other Oklahoma policymakers should do the same, rather than embrace a cancerous cause like state nullification.