Nullification Bills Already on the Move in 2014

About Rachel Tabachnick

CSPOA's Richard Mack speaks at an event in Utah. Image courtesy of fox13now.com

CSPOA’s Richard Mack speaks at an event in Utah. Image courtesy of fox13now.com

The most recent issue of The Public Eye includes an extensive report on nullification, an idea based on the legal theory that states can block federal laws that those states deem to be unconstitutional, and its growing traction across the United States.  One of the most dramatic showdowns of 2013 was in Missouri, where the legislature failed by only one vote to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill nullifying certain federal gun laws.

Now, less than a month into 2014, nullification initiatives are continuing to make their way through state legislatures.  In Oklahoma, a new “Second Amendment Preservation Act” has already been introduced as Senate Bill 613, and (if passed) would make it a Class A misdemeanor for federal employees, including law enforcement officers such as F.B.I. SWAT teams, to enforce federal firearm laws declared invalid by the bill. [1]  The Senate bill was followed by a similar bill in the state House of Representatives on January 15.

Oklahoma is riding the coattails of its neighbor:  In April 2013, Kansas passed a Second Amendment Protection Act, which claimed the state had the right to manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons without federal oversight.  The law exempts these “made in Kansas” guns from federal regulations, and makes it a felony for federal law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws in regard to these guns and their owners.

The latest nullification bill out of Missouri has an interesting twist. The law does not take effect until 2017, or until four other states have passed similar laws.  (Nullification proponents believe that their efforts will be more successful if multiple states enact the same laws.) Missouri State Senator Brian Nieves (R), who proposed the bill, told the Missouri News Tribune,  “‘We continue to see the federal government overreach their rightful bounds, and if we can create a situation where we have some unity among states, then I think it puts us in a better position to make that argument.’”[2]

Missouri legislators have also been creative in their efforts to nullify the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”  According to the St. Louis Dispatch, a bill introduced in the Missouri Senate “would suspend insurance companies’ state licenses if they accepted subsidies offered by the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums for low- and middle-income Missourians.”  The bill would ban the state from setting up exchanges.[3]

As Paul Rosenberg recently reported in Salon, there are a number of conservative groups working to organize Article V conventions to amend the Constitution.  Rosenberg, Frederick Clarkson, and I listened in on a conference call of one of these groups, which has a plan for a so-called Sovereignty and States Rights amendment.  The amendment would allow states to “countermand” federal law.[4]

In the meantime, activists are working to promote resistance to the federal government at the local level.  As noted in The Public Eye article, one particularly active organization is the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA).  Founded by former sheriff Richard Mack, a board member of the Oath Keepers, the CSPOA instructs local county sheriffs to resist federal gun laws they believe to be unconstitutional.  The CSPOA works closely with the Tenth Amendment Center, John Birch Society and Gun Owners of America on promoting Second Amendment Preservation Acts and encouraging sheriffs to refuse to enforce federal gun laws.  (See PRA’s profile on the CSPOA.)[5]

The CSPOA has also begun to challenge same-sex marriage.  On January 4 in Utah, it sponsored an event—advertised as an “uprising against gay marriage”—in response to the recent court ruling which struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Mack, who led the event, stated, “The way you take back freedom in America is one county at a time. The sheriffs need to defend the county clerks in saying, ‘No, we’re not going to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals.'”  Mack later added, “The people of Utah have rights, too, not just the homosexuals. The homosexuals are shoving their agenda down our throats.”[6]

As 2014 progresses, we’ll continue to provide briefings and updates on the status of conservatives’ nullification attempts, as this growing trend is unlikely to diminish anytime soon.

Rachel Tabachnick (PRA associate fellow) researches, writes, and speaks about the impact of the Religious Right on policy and politics including civil rights, education, economics, environment, foreign policy, and labor. She produces presentations and speaks on conservative infrastructure and the intersection of the Religious Right and other sectors of the Right, including “free market” think tanks. Rachel has been interviewed on NPR and other radio and print media across the nation on topics including the New Apostolic Reformation, Christian Zionism, and education privatization. Follow her on Twitter at @RTabachnick.