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.