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State Nullification Efforts Produce Mixed Results

by Carl Wicklander, published
Credit: / Charlie Heyman

Credit: / Charlie Heyman)

From gun laws to marijuana legalization, immigration, and even health care, several state nullification efforts have been taken to curb the enforcement of certain federal laws.

Missouri drew numerous headlines this spring for passing a bill to nullify any federal law or dictate that would "infringe on the people's right keep and bear arms."

The bill was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, but the veto was overridden by the House and fell two votes short in the Senate.

It is difficult, however, to determine how effective this nullification bill would have been because it did not nullify a specific law that had been passed. Once a federal gun bill is passed that is proved an infringement, the Legislature would have to come back and agree to a bill nullifying it.

Missouri also made an attempt to nullify the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In April, a Missouri House Republicans introduced House Bill 995, which would make it a felony to enforce the new health care law. The bill never made it through the Senate.

A similar bill in South Carolina passed the House making it a felony to enforce "unconstitutional laws." The South Carolina bill also never made it out of its upper chamber.

Colorado famously passed ballot initiatives last year making small amounts of marijuana legal. This marked one of the bolder efforts made by a state to nullify a federal law. The Obama administration shortly after said it would not make a priority of policing marijuana use in Colorado.

On a similar note, other states, as politically disparate as Vermont and Kentucky, have made efforts to legalize hemp.

In Vermont, the bill became law with the governor's signature. Kentucky's, which would allow hemp cultivation for industrial purposes, has the support of U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as the state's 4th district U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie. However, the Kentucky effort is contingent on the federal government lifting its ban on industrial hemp.

In California, the Golden State has made a pair of efforts to go its own way regarding immigration enforcement. First, the state Legislature passed the TRUST Act, which means state law enforcement officials would only turn over a limited number of people subject to deportation.

A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) says California is essentially issuing a veto on federal immigration laws, while still allowing the federal government to come in and enforce the laws itself. So, the TRUST Act differs from other state nullification efforts by not making an effort to criminalize federal enforcement of it.

A second endeavor includes a recent law signed by Governor Jerry Brown to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The Department of Motor Vehicles will determine which applicants receive licenses. This too flies contrary to an established 1994 law banning driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

Earlier this summer, I reported that some of the cities with the highest rates of gun violence have some of the lowest rates of enforcement. This marks nullification of another sort. A combination of factors play in to lax enforcement, but the result remains the same: states are refusing to enforce federal statutes and the federal government does little to force the issue.

Several states have made efforts to stop enforcement of laws it finds objectionable. Some efforts have been for show or do not actually nullify or counteract anything. Others are clearly substantive and formally work in defiance of established federal law.

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