States' rights a rallying cry for lawmakers and scholars





Whether it’s correctly called a movement, a backlash or political theater, state declarations of their rights — or in some cases denunciations of federal authority, amounting to the same thing — are on a roll.

In Utah, a bill by Representative Carl Wimmer, a Republican, would require the state to sign off on any federal health reform.

Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, signed a bill into law on Friday declaring that the federal regulation of firearms is invalid if a weapon is made and used in South Dakota.

On Thursday, Wyoming’s governor, Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, signed a similar bill for that state. The same day, Oklahoma’s House of Representatives approved a resolution that Oklahomans should be able to vote on a state constitutional amendment allowing them to opt out of the federal health care overhaul.

In Utah, lawmakers embraced states’ rights with a vengeance in the final days of the legislative session last week. One measure said Congress and the federal government could not carry out health care reform, not in Utah anyway, without approval of the Legislature. Another bill declared state authority to take federal lands under the eminent domain process. A resolution asserted the “inviolable sovereignty of the State of Utah under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.”...

“Everything we’ve tried to keep the federal government confined to rational limits has been a failure, an utter, unrelenting failure — so why not try something else?” said Thomas E. Woods Jr., a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a nonprofit group in Auburn, Ala., that researches what it calls “the scholarship of liberty.”

Mr. Woods, who has a Ph.D. in history, and has written widely on states’ rights and nullification — the argument that says states can sometimes trump or disregard federal law — said he was not sure where the dots between states’ rights and politics connected. But he and others say that whatever it is, something politically powerful is brewing under the statehouse domes.

Other scholars say the state efforts, if pursued in the courts, would face formidable roadblocks. Article 6 of the Constitution says federal authority outranks state authority, and on that bedrock of federalist principle rests centuries of back and forth that states have mostly lost, notably the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and ’60s.

“Article 6 says that that federal law is supreme and that if there’s a conflict, federal law prevails,” said Prof. Ruthann Robson, who teaches constitutional law at the City University of New York School of Law. “It’s pretty difficult to imagine a way in which a state could prevail on many of these.”...



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