By NEMS Daily Journal
While it no doubt pleases some of his constituents, Gov. Phil Bryant’s drumbeat of defiance of federal authority is misleading and unhelpful.
Opposition to all things Obama is certainly a popular political stance among Bryant’s political base. But the legal and constitutional ramifications are more complicated, and ultimately more troublesome for Mississippi, than the governor’s rhetoric suggests.
Take his position in the tug-of-war with Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, a fellow Republican, over the health insurance exchange. The federal health care law – Obamacare – requires establishment of online marketplaces for consumers to shop for health insurance as the act’s mandatory insurance provision kicks in. The states are free to set up their own; if they don’t, the feds will do it for them.
Chaney took the sensible approach that Mississippi, rather than the federal government, should do the job of building its own exchange. Bryant objected and has tried to derail Chaney’s effort. He says it would be a “gateway” to Obamacare’s implementation in Mississippi.
Congress passed the health care law, the president signed it and the Supreme Court has upheld its constitutionality. Regardless of its merits, how exactly does Bryant envision the Affordable Care Act not being implemented in Mississippi?
On another subject, the governor this week wrote Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn “asking that you immediately pass legislation that would make any unconstitutional order by the President illegal to enforce in Mississippi by state or local law enforcement.”
Whether the governor wants to acknowledge it or not, this language is strikingly reminiscent of efforts in the 1960s by Mississippi politicians defying congressional, presidential and federal judicial authority on civil rights issues. The issues are different, yes, but the principle is the same: In our system, state sovereignty is not absolute, it is secondary to federal law. The issue was settled in 1865 and again, after Mississippi and others refought the battle, in the 1960s.
Obamacare has a constitutional imprimatur. The only chance that it won’t be fully implemented is for Congress to repeal it, and that’s not likely anytime soon. There may be orders or laws passed related to gun control that some may consider unconstitutional, but the proper course will be to challenge those in courts.
The governor doesn’t need to take the dubious position that somehow a state law, or state inaction, can in and of itself overrule federal authority. It can’t and it won’t.