Read that again.
“Nullification” and “interposition” were the cries that led to the Civil War, when states thought they could “neutralize” federal laws. Hundreds of thousands died and the nation was torn asunder, but the issue was settled: Federal laws trumped state laws, and court decisions ever since have upheld that basic principle of our republic.
But Mississippi and other southern states thought we’d try it again in the 1950s and ’60s in ill-fated efforts to “neutralize” federal civil rights laws. It was a disaster for our state, leading to two decades of wasted time, money and effort, inflaming a climate of violence and inflicting damage on our national image that has never been fully repaired.
Politicians today who want to “neutralize” federal authority take offense at their efforts being compared to previous state defiance of federal authority. Opposition to federal health care and gun control initiatives isn’t the equivalent of opposing federal civil rights laws, they argue.
But while the subject matter is different, the principle argued is precisely the same: states aren’t obliged to follow federal laws they deem unconstitutional. This is a legal theory long ago discredited.
States may challenge federal laws they deem unconstitutional in court. They can’t simply nullify the effect of those laws with their own.
The legislators who introduced this bill – Reps. Gary Chism and Jeff Smith, both Columbus Republicans – ought to know better. They aren’t lawmakers on the fringe of Capitol deliberations – Smith just five years ago narrowly missed being elected speaker of the House.
The House Constitution Committee chairman, Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, told The Associated Press the bill will likely be taken up in his committee and it has significant support.
When will we learn? This is a complete waste of time, at best. At worst, it stirs up images of an era Mississippi has spent decades convincing the nation is behind us and sets the state up to look ridiculous.
Let it die.