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Nullification — the idea that a state can simply refuse to follow federal laws when it doesn’t like them — has been popular of late. A traveling conference called “Nullify Now!” has been roving the country in the last year pushing this notion, with its events headlined by prominent figures in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement.
In addition, state lawmakers in recent months have introduced, but not passed, numerous bills to nullify federal initiatives like gun regulations and the new health care reform act. Some have sought to deny the authority of federal agents to act in state jurisdictions. Arizona’s Senate even passed a sweeping bill earlier this year that would create a legislative committee to “recommend, propose and call for a vote by simple majority to nullify in its entirety a specific federal law or regulation that is outside the scope of the powers delegated by the People to the federal government in the United States Constitution.”
Now, the movement is going national, with some Congressional GOP lawmakers pushing for legislation affecting the entire country. Their proposed constitutional amendment, a Tea Party favorite, would allow a vote by two-thirds of the states’ legislatures to override any federal law. According to the Talking Points Memo website, the amendment is being pushed by Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in the Senate and is co-sponsored by Sens. John Barasso (R-W.V.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). In the House, U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) are backing the amendment. These lawmakers, using traditional antigovernment language, claim their goal is to stop the tyranny of Washington over the economy and circumscribe other federal powers.
The amendment will be officially announced Thursday in a Capitol Hill press conference.
Nullification has a long and often sordid history in America. During the 1950s, Southerners revived the idea as a way to reject the federal government’s efforts to desegregate public schools. However, it was also used by anti-slavery Northerners to refuse to return runaway slaves in the run-up to the Civil War.