New Hampshire Governor Fails To Veto Unconstitutional Health Care Nullification Law

Nineteenth century nullificationist Senator John C. Calhoun

Last week, New Hampshire joined the handful of states that have enacted wildly unconstitutional laws claiming to nullify part of the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps most distressingly of all, however, the state’s Democratic Gov. John Lynch refused to exercise his authority to veto the bill:

I today allowed SB 148, to become law without my signature.

SB 148 purports to block the individual coverage provisions included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from going forward in New Hampshire. […]

On a practical level, there is no mechanism for the State of New Hampshire to enforce SB 148. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the assessments for not obtaining health insurance will not be administered through the state but through the Internal Revenue Service. Legislators and the public should understand that this legislation would have no impact on the capacity of the State of New Hampshire to block the individual health insurance mandate or the federal assessments for not obtaining insurance.

Lynch is, of course, correct that this law has no legal impact whatsoever. The U.S. Constitution provides that Acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding,” thus expressly establishing that states do not have a veto power over federal laws. So the bill Lynch just allowed to become law is nothing more than an impotent middle finger to the express language of the Constitution.

But while this unambiguously unconstitutional law has no legal effect, Lynch is simply wrong that it has no practical effect. A recent poll found that 22 percent of the country falsely thinks the Affordable Care Act has been repealed, and another 26 percent were not sure. When states are allowed to engage in unconstitutional stunts such as this one, they only add to the confusion.

Of course, Lynch is hardly the worst culprit here — that honor goes to the right-wing lawmakers who pushed this direct attack on the Constitution in the first place. But Lynch swore an oath to support the Constitution when he became governor, and he should have used all the tools available to him to push back against the far right’s belief that the words of the Constitution mean whatever they want them to mean.