by Michael Boldin

On the heels of a successful state-level resistance to the 2005 Real ID Act, activists and state legislators alike are focusing their efforts on state governments as a way to resist new federal programs.

The latest? Health Care.

In response to what some opponents see as a Congress that doesn’t represent their interests, State Legislators are looking to the nearly-forgotten American political tradition of nullification as a way to reject any potential national health care program that may be coming from Washington.

The most recent effort comes from Florida State Senator Carey Baker and State Representative Scott Plakon, who this week filed a proposed State Constitutional Amendment (HJR37) as a means to prevent Floridians from being affected by any Federal Health Care Legislation.  If approved by the legislature, Florida residents could be voting on it as early as 2010.

HJR37 would deny the ability of any new law to impose demands, restrictions or penalties on health care choices on Floridians. Versions of proposed federal health care reform legislation have included insurance coverage mandates, and certain penalties on employers who fail to provide employee health insurance.

It states, in part:

(1) A law or rule shall not compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system

(2) A person or employer may pay directly for lawful health care services and shall not be required to pay penalties or fines for paying directly for lawful health care services. A health care provider may accept direct payment for lawful health care services and shall not be required to pay penalties or fines for accepting direct payment from a person or employer for lawful health care services.

A similar measure, called the Health Care Freedom Act, has already passed in Arizona, and residents of that state will have the opportunity to vote on it in 2010.  Sources close to the Tenth Amendment Center say that more than ten other states may see such proposals introduced in the coming session.

Some say that a federal program would raise serious constitutional concerns.  They cite the Tenth Amendment as limiting the Federal Government to those powers delegated to it by the People in the Constitution.

Nullification

When a state ‘nullifies’ a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or ‘non-effective,’ within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned.

Nullification has a long and interesting history in American politics, and originates in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. These resolutions, secretly authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, asserted that the people of the states, as sovereign entities, could judge for themselves whether the federal government had overstepped its constitutional bounds – to the point of ignoring federal laws.

Virginia and Kentucky passed the resolutions in response to the federal Alien and Sedition Acts, which provided, in part, for the prosecution of anyone who criticized Congress or the President of the United States.

Nullification was regularly called upon by states all over the country in response to everything from higher taxes to the fugitive slave law of 1850.

Real ID as the Blueprint?

Supporters of modern nullification efforts look to the successful rebellion by states against the Bush-era Real ID Act.

In early 2007, Maine and then Utah passed resolutions refusing to implement the federal Real ID act on grounds that the law was unconstitutional.  Well-over a dozen other states followed suit in passing legislation opposing Real ID.

Instead of attempting to force the law to implementation, the federal government delayed implementation not once, but twice. And in June of this year, the Obama administration, recognizing the insurmountable task of enforcing a law in the face of such broad resistance, announced that it was looking to “repeal and replace” the controversial law.

Supporters see this as a blueprint to resist various federal laws that they see as outside the scope of the Constitution.  Some say that each successful state-level resistance to federal programs will only embolden others to try the same – resulting in an eventual shift of power from the federal government to the States and the People themselves.