A recent article in the New York Times covered the growth of state-level resistance to a future national health care plan. For example, in 2010, voters in Arizona will have a chance to approve a state constitutional amendment that would effectively ban national health care in that state. Legislators in Florida and Michigan have already introduced similar legislation, and potentially, 15 other states will do so in the 2010 legislative session.
But hereâ€™s something fundamentally important that NYT writer Monica Davey claims in her article:
â€¦the Constitutionâ€™s supremacy clause ordinarily allows federal law to, in essence, trump a state law that conflicts with itâ€¦
A best, this is a highly-misleading statement.
There are two main points to make here:
1. The â€œsupremacy clauseâ€ does not allow federal law to trump state law in all situations, or even â€œordinarilyâ€ as Davey claims. It only does so when both laws are in pursuance of a power that has been delegated to the federal government by â€œWe the People.â€ â€“ in the Constitution.
2. We know that this is the case because Monicaâ€™s version of the supremacy clause was actually proposed by leading founders â€“ and rejected. When the Constitution was being drafted, James Madison and others proposed what came to be known as the â€œVirginia Plan.â€ A major part of this plan was to give the congress a veto over state laws. It was defeated. That means, in plain English, the founders considered this idea, and said no. And Davey is irrefutably wrong in her claim.
So we know from this short lesson that the supremacy clause did not authorize the power that Davey is claiming. In reality, things are pretty much the other way around. The biggest Constitutional problems that actually exist in this country are those times when the federal government exercises powers not delegated to it by â€œWe the People.â€ And that happens far more often than not.
Unfortunately, though, not enough people know this important history of the Virginia Plan, and this basic premise of the Constitution, so theyâ€™re easily swayed by patently false statements by people like Davey and the New York Times.
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