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April 03, 2014 7:10 am

AMEND CORNER: Politics in the Twilight Zone

Written by Don Amend

Recently, I’ve been traveling back to the television world of half a century ago.

Specifically, I’ve found a way to watch the old “Twilight Zone” series, five years of programs that dealt with all sorts of crazy ideas such as visits from aliens, alternate universes and tricks of the mind. Most of the stories are sort of weird; in fact, my wife won’t watch them because she finds them too spooky.

I like them, though, because they help me recall the things we worried about back around 1960, and they deal with human emotions and motivations that, despite the goofy premises of some of the programs, are pretty real, even among us 21st century sophisticates.

Quite a few of the stories deal with separate realities, such as a parallel universe a person suddenly finds himself in when a hole opens up in his closet, or when he goes to sleep at night and wakes up in the same bedroom where he fell asleep, but with a different family or in a different time in history.

Well, I’m a skeptic. I even reject nearly all the popular conspiracies that are bandied about these days.

I believe, for example, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and that no aliens crash-landed in New Mexico in 1947. And I certainly don’t believe in parallel universes, although it’s fun to imagine them.

There are times, though, when I think there are people out there who live in some other world. One of those times came when I read in a recent edition about a candidate who wishes to be the Republican candidate for Wyoming’s governor.

In that story, he states that Wyoming has the power to nullify federal laws, making them unenforceable in the state. He feels he will have the right and duty as governor to nullify such laws and actions if he perceives them as illegal.

“The U.S. Constitution is clear on it,” he says. “It means what it says. It is very simple language.”

Well, he must be reading a different Constitution than I am. Just to be sure, I re-read the document prior to writing this, with special attention to Article IV, which speaks to the relationship between the federal government and the states. There is nothing in that clause that even suggests the existence of such a power.

Further, in Article V, the Supremacy Clause declares the Constitution and “laws which shall be made in pursuance thereof,” and treaties made by the U.S. government are “the supreme law of the land.” It goes on to say “... the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In short, the language of the Constitution is clear on the subject, but the words say exactly the opposite of what the candidate believes it says

Moreover, the governor is an executive official, charged with executing the law, not deciding on its legality. Determining whether a law is “illegal” is the province of the courts, not the governor. To act otherwise would violate the system of checks and balances and would probably give the governor more power than a conservative such as this candidate would like him to have.

In holding this view, the candidate also would have to reject some of his own conservative principles, which hold that the Constitution must be understood literally. He would have to apply considerable interpretation to come up with his theory, and doing so could be seen as supporting the concept of a “Living Constitution,” a concept more conservative theorists reject.

This issue has come up periodically throughout our history, and sometimes even New England states tried to claim the right. But, in fact, while the courts can declare federal laws unconstitutional, and have often done so, they have never ruled that nullification was constitutional.

It also occurs to me that, had the courts supported the South’s nullification theory in 1860, the Civil War might never have happened. After all, if South Carolina had obtained the right to simply declare laws inimical to slavery null and void, they would have had no need to secede from the union, because they would have gotten exactly what they wanted while continuing to enjoy the advantages of staying in the union.

With that in mind, I checked the Constitution of the Confederate States of America just for fun. One would think that their Constitution would clearly include nullification under their theory of states’ rights. But, lo and behold, I found that their Constitution contained a Supremacy Clause that reads just like the one in the U.S. Constitution they were rejecting by seceding from the union. It seems they didn’t want states nullifying national laws either.

In short, the candidate is way off base in his assertion that he would have the right and duty to nullify federal laws. I’m not sure what he was reading that “clearly stated” that the state had the right of nullification, but it wasn’t in the U.S. Constitution.

I trust Republicans out there would prefer to vote for a candidate who has read the real Constitution, not one in a parallel universe somewhere out there in the Twilight Zone.

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