Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is one of the most radical constitutional thinkers in the country. He believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional. He thinks federal child labor laws, overtime laws and the minimum wage all violate the Constitution. And he doesn’t think that Americans should be able to elect their own senators — among other things.
So it probably shouldn’t come as any surprise that Perry supports one of the most destructive misinterpretations of the Constitution in American history — nullification.
In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a law that would gradually phase out older light bulbs that are both more inefficient and more expensive in the long run that bulbs based on modern technology. Once President Obama moved into the White House, however, conservatives suddenly decided that it was their fundamental right as an American to waste their money on expensive and outdated bulbs. Accordingly, Texas lawmakers passed a bill claiming that many Texas light bulb manufacturers can simply ignore this law, and Perry signed that bill into law last June.
The idea that states can invalidate federal laws that they don’t like — an idea known as nullification — is wildly unconstitutional. 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. As James Madison wrote in 1830, allowing states to simply ignore the laws they don’t want to follow would “speedily put an end to the Union itself.”
Nevertheless, this constitutionally indefensible idea has seen somewhat of a resurgence among the American far right since the publication of a 2010 book by right-wing pseudo-historian Thomas Woods. Before writing this book, Woods published an article declaring the Confederacy to be “Christendom’s Last Stand,” where he endorses the view that the Civil War was a battle between “atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other,” and he concludes that “[t]he real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today, was the defeat of the Confederate States of America in 1865.” (Woods also writes delightfully unhinged rants whenever someone points out his pro-Confederate past. Hi, Tom. Can’t wait to see what you write this time!)
So Perry is in some pretty terrible company with his claim that Texas can thumb its nose at the law. Unfortunately, Perry’s embrace of nullification is just one more sign that he has canvassed American constitutional history to find the worst ideas from America’s past and systemically embraced all of them.
It’s worth noting that Perry also signed a so-called “health care compact” which purports to let its signatory states opt out of the Affordable Care Act. Although such compacts are legal, they require the approval of Congress and can be vetoed by the President. Nevertheless, one of this compact’s leading supporters — the right-wing Texas think tank that owns the copyright to Perry’s book — falsely argues that the compact Perry signed can bypass President Obama’s veto.