One of the things that makes America’s legal system unique from that of other countries, is the issue of state versus federal law. In almost every other country in the world, there is one government that makes all of the laws for all of the country, whereas in the U.S., the federal government makes laws that the states are expected to follow. However, the states make many more laws of their own, sometimes in direct opposition to federal law. A process which can become very confusing, very quickly.
However, while state and federal laws butting heads in not a new concept (you only have to look at the medical marijuana situation to see what we mean here) a recent proposal in the Texas legislature is looking to outdo all other state versus federal legal battles.
The Texas Sovereignty Act, introduced by State Representative Cecil Bell, is somewhat unprecedented. If this passed into law, it would allow the state of Texas to ignore federal law and court rulings, and forgo enforcing national regulations. The process would be the same as that of passing a bill. The federal government may not necessarily agree with that view citing to the sovereignty of the federal government.
When asked why he had introduced such revolutionary legislation, Bell said that Texas shouldn’t be held to the same requirements as other states, when they are in fact very different. “If Texas has to live under California’s environmental regulations because the court says, ‘Oh no, Texas can’t be Texas, Texas has to be identical to California,’ this would make a legislative process to address that,”
Should all states be held to the same requirements, or should each one’s standards be different?
Bell, a Republican, also said that while he is very glad Republican currently hold sway in Washington, he believes that states should preemptively protect themselves from future federal overreach. Unbelievable as this may seem to some, Texas isn’t alone in this perspective. Arizona has already approved a similar policy in 2014, and several other states have expressed interest in pursuing the idea of putting up legal barricades against the federal government.
However not every Texan is in agreement. Democratic Representative Chris Turner calls the bill a joke, and says that he can’t imagine it ever making it to the House floor because it isn’t a serious piece of legislature. “It proposes a structure for state nullification of federal laws which is clearly unconstitutional.” he says.
This is the same principle, coming at the issue from a democratic angle, that is used to create “sanctuary cities” throughout the U.S. This is referred to as the “anti-commandeering doctrine” which means that the federal government cannot legally force a state to use their resources in order to implement federal laws and programs.
It is worth noting that while states do have the right to refuse to cooperate with the federal government, the only method by which a state can contest whether or not a particular law is constitutional or not is to sue. Texas has a particularly litigious history with the federal government, having sued over 50 times during the Obama administration. We will be keeping an eye on this bill and will keep you updated as to its progress, and whether or not it has any impact on other states considering similar measures.