AUGUSTA, Maine — A national movement designed to reassert states’ rights and void federal mandates not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution has made its way into the Maine Legislature.
Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, has submitted “nullification” legislation modeled after proposals recently adopted by five states and under consideration in at least 16 others. If enacted, the proposal would allow future legislatures to rule against federal laws such as the Affordable Care Act or gun legislation.
Cebra’s proposal would create a nonbinding “sovereignty” resolution based on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The resolution would not carry the force of law.
However, Cebra said the legislation was important because it would allow Maine to send a message to the federal government, which he said repeatedly has trampled states’ rights.
“There are plenty of areas where the federal government is spreading its tentacles into our state’s rights,” he said. “This is just an opportunity for us to say, look, enough is enough.”
Cebra cited as examples the federal health care law, federal gun legislation and federal enforcement of drug laws in states that have adopted medicinal marijuana legislation.
Those issues and several others are highlighted by the Tenth Amendment Center, an organization spearheading the effort and providing model legislation for lawmakers.
Cebra’s bill is modeled after a resolution taken up by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2008. The bill passed the Oklahoma House, but was eventually vetoed by the governor.
“I hate to say draw a line in the sand, but that’s pretty much what we’re doing,” he said. “Going forward, overstepping your constitutional bounds is not something we’re going to tolerate in the state of Maine.”
Cebra rejected suggestions that his proposal was a political weapon designed to open another front against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He said he’d always been a supporter of state sovereignty, noting his 2008 opposition to President George W. Bush’s Real ID mandate.
State Attorney General William Schneider earlier this year signed Maine onto the Florida lawsuit challenging the ACA’s individual mandate.
Cebra said Democrats would likely use the ACA debate to justify opposition to the nullification resolution.
“The whole idea of limited government versus bigger government is what we’re talking about here,” he said.
The 10th Amendment, or nullification movement, started several years ago, but has gained momentum along with the tea party and federalist movement.
According to the Tenth Amendment Center, Alaska, Tennessee, Utah, Alabama and Wyoming have adopted nullification resolutions.
In 2009, proposals in Montana and New Hampshire failed to reach enactment.
Although the Montana effort failed last year, the state had previously adopted a “firearms freedom” law also advocated by the Tenth Amendment Center. Firearms freedom laws, which Cebra said he would support in Maine, would make the federal regulation of firearms invalid if a weapon is made in the same state that adopts the legislation.
Such legislation is driven by the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that powers not held by the U.S. government are reserved for the states.
The nullification strategy was originally advanced by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 as a means of checking the federal government. Adherents argue that states can reject any federal law they believe is unconstitutional.
Courts have typically rejected state nullification efforts, most notably during southern states’ resistance to the desegregation of schools during the 1950s and ’60s. Those cases turned on readings of Article 6 of the Constitution, which says federal authority outweighs state authority.
It’s unclear how much support Cebra’s bill has in the Republican-controlled Legislature. However, the bill would seem to have a willing audience in Gov. Paul LePage, who has advocated for states’ rights while endorsing the attorney general’s decision to join the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law.
Dan Demeritt, LePage’s spokesman, said Monday that the administration hadn’t yet reviewed Cebra’s bill.