Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Repub­li­can-con­trolled state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Okla­homa, six­ty-five mem­bers of South Car­oli­na’s House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ed this week to approve a bill that attempts to nul­li­fy the land­mark Patient Pro­tec­tion Act with­in the bor­ders of the Pal­met­to State.

The bill, H. 3101, seeks to:

… ren­der null and void cer­tain uncon­sti­tu­tion­al laws enact­ed by the Con­gress of the Unit­ed States tak­ing con­trol over the health insur­ance indus­try and man­dat­ing that indi­vid­u­als pur­chase health insur­ance under threat of penal­ty; to pro­hib­it cer­tain indi­vid­u­als from enforc­ing or attempt­ing to enforce such uncon­sti­tu­tion­al laws; and to estab­lish crim­i­nal penal­ties and civ­il lia­bil­i­ty for vio­lat­ing this article.

The prime spon­sor of the bill is Repub­li­can Bill Chum­ley. Chum­ley is either not aware that by attempt­ing to nul­li­fy fed­er­al law, he is vio­lat­ing the oath of office he swore or affirmed when he became a law­mak­er, or he is aware and sim­ply does­n’t care.

The Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States has repeat­ed­ly held that fed­er­al law trumps state law and states have no author­i­ty to nul­li­fy fed­er­al laws. In Coop­er v. Aaron (1958) the Court unequiv­o­cal­ly affirmed that the fed­er­al judi­cia­ry alone has the pow­er to inter­pret fed­er­al laws and decide their con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty. For state offi­cials to assume such pow­er would be a vio­la­tion of their oaths:

No state leg­is­la­tor or exec­u­tive or judi­cial offi­cer can war against the Con­sti­tu­tion with­out vio­lat­ing his under­tak­ing to sup­port it. Chief Jus­tice Mar­shall spoke for a unan­i­mous Court in say­ing that: ‘If the leg­is­la­tures of the sev­er­al states may, at will, annul the judg­ments of the courts of the Unit­ed States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judg­ments, the Con­sti­tu­tion itself becomes a solemn mockery.

A Gov­er­nor who asserts a pow­er to nul­li­fy a fed­er­al court order is sim­i­lar­ly restrained. If he had such pow­er, said Chief Jus­tice Hugh­es, in 1932, also for a unan­i­mous Court, ‘it is man­i­fest that the fiat of a state Gov­er­nor, and not the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States, would be the supreme law of the land; that the restric­tions of the Fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion upon the exer­cise of state pow­er would be but impo­tent phrases’.

The Supreme Court has found the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act to be con­sti­tu­tion­al. This deci­sion is bind­ing on South Car­oli­na and its elect­ed offi­cials, includ­ing Bill Chum­ley and his col­leagues — whether they like it or not. Thus, iron­i­cal­ly, H. 3101 — which attempts to make the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act unen­force­able — is itself unenforceable.

Chum­ley is free to dis­like and dis­agree with the Supreme Court’s deci­sion in Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Busi­ness v. Sebe­lius.

But as an elect­ed leader who swore an oath to defend the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States, he must respect the Court’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the Constitution.

Sim­i­lar­ly, those of us who fer­vent­ly dis­agree with the Supreme Court’s Cor­po­ra­tions Unit­ed rul­ing have to respect that deci­sion, even though we may not like it. We are, of course, at lib­er­ty to pro­pose and dis­cuss chang­ing the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion to over­turn the deci­sion, and that is what the Move to Amend effort is all about.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “Senseless South Carolina lawmakers approve bill that seeks to nullify Patient Protection Act”

  1. To say that South Car­oli­na needs help would be a huge understatement… 

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