by Derek Sheriff

Let’s shed some light on why Arizona’s Governor just vetoed a great piece of Tenth Amendment legislation.

Popularly known as the “Light Bulb Bill”, HB2337 was recently submitted to Governor Brewer. This bill seemed to be exactly the kind of Tenth Amendment legislation she would enthusiastically support. Surprisingly, however, she announced that she had vetoed the bill for practical and strategic reasons. In her veto letter, she explained:

Despite any federal restrictions to the contrary, the bill would have allowed the possession, use, manufacture, purchase, installation, sale or exportation internationally of incandescent light bulbs manufactured in Arizona from Arizona raw materials and components.

While I have vetoed HB 2337, I share the bill’s underlying sentiment. The federal government continually infringes on the rights of States guaranteed in the United States Constitution and by over-regulating the lives of everyday Americans. As Governor, there has not been a more ardent defender of the State of Arizona’s 10TH Amendment rights — from suing the federal government for overreaching its constitutional authority in the recently passed federal health care legislation to signing the Firearms Freedom Act (HB 2307) into law last month.

In fact, HB 2337 was modeled in large part after HB 2307. Both bills invite lawsuits that would restore our Founding Fathers’ vision of a limited federal government based on the 10TH Amendment. I believe that the Firearms Freedom Act is the more immediate and practical vehicle for achieving this objective. The federal phase-out of the incandescent light bulb starts next year and is completed in 2014. HB 2337 would take many more years to achieve its goal because there are no active tungsten mining or mineral processing facilities in Arizona. Tungsten is necessary to manufacture the filament in incandescent light bulbs.

Sadly, what Governor Brewer and many of the bill’s sponsors are either unaware of, or fail to understand properly, are the concepts of nullification and interposition, which were expressed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. The ideas articulated in these very important, but mostly unknown documents, later became known as The Principles of ’98, and were invoked in almost every decade before the Civil War by states from every part of the Union in response to acts of federal usurpation.

If more people serving in our state governments familiarized themselves with the The Principles of ’98 and the classical liberal states’ rights tradition nobody knows, they might be less concerned with provoking federal lawsuits in the hope of obtaining a favorable court ruling.

Lawsuits and court battles can be part of a state’s overall strategy to arrest acts of federal usurpation and keep them from multiplying, but they are not essential. While favorable court rulings are welcome, even Supreme Court decisions should not be accepted as legitimate by state governments if such decisions uphold “laws” that clearly would have been rejected by the Constitution’s ratifiers.

Just like Thomas Jefferson, our elected state officials need to finally and permenantly reject the historical and legal fiction that the US Supreme Court is the final authority on constitutional issues.

As founder and director of the Tenth Amendment Center, Michael Boldin, wrote in a recent press release:

“The greatest problem with relying on lawsuits..for Constitutional protection is the reality that the Supreme Court has set years and years of bad precedent, allowing the federal government to control many aspects of our lives that the Founders and Ratifiers never authorized. The real question we must ask is this:

Does the Constitution mean what the founders [and Ratifiers] said it means, or does it mean what the Supreme Court says it means…until it changes its mind?

Like any legal document, the words of the Constitution mean today the same as they meant the moment it was ratified. The Commerce Clause, the General Welfare Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause have not been amended, and the original Constitutional meanings of those clauses do not permit the federal government to exercise such powers.”

Given the fact that the Supreme Court is part of the federal government and can no more be an impartial arbiter of constitutional disputes between the states and the federal government than the legislative or executive branch could be, I have a question.

Do we live in a republic where the Constitution, which has a fixed and knowable meaning, is the supreme law of the land? Or do we live in a judicial oligarchy where we are governed by case law, which changes from decade to decade according to the shifting opinions of nine unelected, unaccountable judges?

If the latter is the case, then our system of government resembles more closely that of Iran, where ultimate sovereignty resides with Islamic jurists, than the one established by the Constitution’s framers and ratifiers.

But if the former is the case, then states, and not the Supreme Court exclusively, have the moral and legal authority to decide when Congress has violated the Constitution. And the people of the several states, supported and defended by their state governments, have every natural and legal right to ignore or refuse to obey what Congress may attempt to call a “law” in cases where it has overstepped its constitutional boundaries.

Some will assert that this could lead to irregularity and legal chaos around the country. I contend that we are already faced with a far worse situation: institutionalized lawlessness and nationalized tyranny.

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Whether it’s over issues concerning mandatory health insurance, firearms manufactured and kept within state boundaries or a federal ban on incandescent light bulbs, our state and local officials must take a more realistic and enlightened approach: Stop asking the federal courts for permission to protect their citizen’s constitutional rights and just do it. It is their responsibility and their duty to interpose on our behalf whether any branch of the federal government likes it or not.

Derek Sheriff
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