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June 21, 2013 12:44 PM The Calhoun Revival Continues

By Ed Kilgore

In a trend that’s been moving right along under the national radar screen (with the exception of a few occasions of loud rebel yells that couldn’t be ignored), state legislatures have gotten into the habit of forgetting the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sought to nullify federal laws. The AP has been adding up these incidents, per this story from David Lieb:

Imagine the scenario: A federal agent attempts to arrest someone for illegally selling a machine gun. Instead, the federal agent is arrested - charged in a state court with the crime of enforcing federal gun laws.
Farfetched? Not as much as you might think.
The scenario would become conceivable if legislation passed by Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature is signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
The Missouri legislation is perhaps the most extreme example of a states’ rights movement that has been spreading across the nation. States are increasingly adopting laws that purport to nullify federal laws - setting up intentional legal conflicts, directing local police not to enforce federal laws and, in rare cases, even threatening criminal charges for federal agents who dare to do their jobs.
An Associated Press analysis found that about four-fifths of the states now have enacted local laws that directly reject or ignore federal laws on marijuana use, gun control, health insurance requirements and identification standards for driver’s licenses.

The legacy of John C. Calhoun, who died 163 years ago, is looking as strong as it’s been since the “interposition” theories advanced in the South in a vain effort to thwart civil rights laws. It might have been even stronger had the Supreme Court not made the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion optional, though in that case the feds would have had the fiscal hammer of being able to boot resisting states right out of Medicaid.

On the other hand, that might have been hunky-dory to a lot of Tea Folk. It’s yet another reminder that ideological and constitutional conflict in America is in territory uncharted for a long time.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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