Steve Chapman

It contradicts two centuries of jurisprudence based on the final authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1803 opinion, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department" -- the courts -- "to say what the law is." It ignores a minor matter known as the Civil War, which drastically altered the balance of power between the federal government and the states.

What has been established by history is that the states have the right to contest the exercise of power by those in Washington -- but only within legitimate channels.

They can scream bloody murder against unwanted federal laws. They can refuse to let state and local police enforce them. They can decline federal funding that has strings attached. If the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in an unwanted way, two-thirds of the states can call a convention to approve amendments, which can be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

What they can't do is pretend to be exempt from the national government. This point is not in dispute even among experts who see Washington as far too powerful. Cato Institute Chairman Robert Levy, who led the lawsuit that yielded the Supreme Court's 2008 decision establishing an individual right to own guns, writes that "states cannot impede federal enforcement of a federal law merely because the state deems it unconstitutional."

Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett, who argued the unconstitutionality of Obamacare before the Supreme Court, shares that view. "Under the Supremacy Clause, states cannot override valid federal laws," he told me.

He proposes a constitutional "repeal amendment" allowing a majority of states representing a majority of the U.S. population to override federal laws and regulations -- which would be superfluous if states could simply ignore them.

Today, the essential freedoms of gun owners are highly secure, protected by elected leaders as well as the judiciary. So it's hard to see why their purported champions feel impelled to radically upend our system of government. Better to take yes for an answer.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
©Creators Syndicate