Ignoring Civil War, Civil Rights, and the Constitution, MN GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Embraces Nullification

The U.S. Constitution expressly states 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. Nevertheless, in an op-ed entitled “States Need Veto on Federal Power,” Minnesota Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Emmer argues that states should be able to ignore this part of the Constitution:

I proposed the Health Care Freedom Act last year. Had it passed, it would have given Minnesotans the opportunity to actually vote on whether or not they wanted to opt into Obamacare, rather than have that choice taken away from them. Several states have since passed such an act, but Minnesota Democrats led by Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher decided to prevent Minnesotans from having the same choice that millions of citizens from other states have. …

But frankly, getting the federal government out of our most personal health care choices is just a start. The federal government is too involved in too many aspects of our lives, and is too involved in telling state and local governments what to do and how to do it. …

I believe that our Legislature should have a voice in whether federal laws should be made to apply to Minnesotans.

Emmer is right about exactly one thing. He is not the only “tenther” lawmaker to claim that the Constitution does not apply to him. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell recently signed an obviously unconstitutional law that purports to nullify portions of the Affordable Care Act, and at least three other states have passed laws purporting to limit health reform (although a massive 25 states have rejected such efforts). Several states have considered so-called “sovereignty resolutions” which claim that the state has the power to ignore laws that conservatives don’t like. Four New Hampshire lawmakers introduced a resolution which would invalidate the entire Constitution if Congress ever passed a law conflicting with the right-wing view of federal power.


Though this kind of constitutional ignorance is out of place in the 21st Century, it has a long and sordid history. In 1833, former Vice President John C. Calhoun spearheaded an effort to nullify a federal tariff that the state of South Carolina disagreed with — even inspiring that state’s governor to raise an army of 25,000 men to go to war with the federal government. Of course, less than three decades later, South Carolina did go to war with the United States to protest a new president’s insufficient loyalty to slavery. Likewise, in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, nearly every southern Member of Congress signed a “Southern Manefesto” asserting that the states were not bound by the Court’s decision. In his “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King explicitly denounced the doctrines of “interposition and nullification,” two doctrines claiming that states can ignore federal laws.

So Tom Emmer’s views are hardly unprecedented. He just might want to think more closely about the company he keeps.