If State Senator Ryan McDougle and Delegate Jim LeMunyon have their way, states representing only 27% of America’s population can nullify federal laws.
Their twin resolutions to be considered in the upcoming General Assembly session (SJ280 & HJ542) call for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution to allow any federal law to be overriden by a vote of two-thirds of state legislatures, an attempt to be the first such petition (which requires two-thirds of state legislatures) to succeed. Joined in co-sponsorship by State Senator Jill Holtzman-Vogel and 19 House Republicans, the States’ Rights wing of the Republican Party of Virginia hopes to take away legislative supremacy from a popularly elected Congress (only one house of which is proportional to population) and give veto power to a set of states wildly divergent in population. With 33 out of 50 states required to overturn any law, the 85 million residents of the 33 smaller states have dominion over the 224 million residents of the 27 remaining. Is this what Republicans call a republic?
This scheme is the latest in a string of attempts by Republicans, especially House Republicans, to push back against what they perceive to be too much federal influence. Dissatisfied with the methods already proscribed in the Constitution to make and repeal laws with the consent of the people (for example, a body established under Article I popularly known as “Congress“), it joins bills introduced this year to exempt Virginia buildings from cap and trade legislation, exempt Virginia-made products from acts brought under the Interstate Commerce Clause, and restore Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for Virginia’s National Guard.
Careful readers will note that all of the other bills mentioned are delicately drafted to be Virginia-specific, as Virginia hopes to avoid a repeat of the Nullification Crisis of 1832, when a similarly unruly South Carolina legislature declared outright that South Carolina was not subject to new federal tariffs, backing down only when Congress granted the President authority to close ports at will. Noticing that federal law was supreme after all, southern states simply seceded–and the rest is history. This effort to amend the constitution is a fair bit less brazen, but the principle behind it is the same–the idea that state governments can overturn federal laws as they please.
We’ve already got a channel to pass and repeal laws. Do we need to add another disproportionate method to thwart the majority?