Nullification campaign advances in multiple states

Alabama state capitol
Alabama state capitol
Associated Press

Measures like these continue to make me uncomfortable, largely because they’re premised on a discredited legal theory decided by the Civil War.

The Alabama state Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would nullify all federal gun laws in the state, joining a growing list of state legislatures looking to ban gun legislation from the books.

The Alabama bill says that any federal law that is contrary to the Second Amendment would be declared “null and void” in the state.

Now, there’s a certain tautological quality to appreciate: unconstitutional laws will be considered unconstitutional. Brilliant.

But the question is which government entity gets to decide which federal laws are contrary to the Second Amendment. Alabama seems to think it can play the role of the federal judiciary – if the state attorney general thinks he or she doesn’t like a federal law, then federal law will be ignored in the state of Alabama.

And that’s nutty.

But it remains part of a pattern. The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives advanced a bill last week that says any new federal gun measures would be ignored in the state, while the Republican-controlled South Carolina House of Representatives is looking to nullify elements of the Affordable Care Act.

And all of this coincides with nullification efforts in Kansas, North Carolina, and elsewhere.

To reiterate a basic legal principle, states can’t pick and choose which federal laws they like and dislike. It’s my sincere hope that this is just a bizarre fad among radicalized Republicans, and to borrow a phrase, the “fever” gripping GOP politics will soon fade without incident. Chances are, cooler heads will prevail and these various nullification efforts will fade away, left to become a punch-line among future historians marveling at the far-right hysteria of the Obama era.

But I’d lying if I said this isn’t disconcerting and more than a little alarming.