To see the reaction in some states to the just-passed health care reform bill, you might think you were back in the 1950s. Today, as more than a half century ago, some states are looking for ways to defy federal law — including reviving the pre-Civil War doctrine of "nullification," claiming that a single state can block federal law.
And, once again, Virginia is leading the way, similar to its 1950s "massive resistance" campaign against federal orders to end racially segregated schools. Virginia's governor signed laws last week that attempt to make elements of the new health care law illegal in Virginia. Utah and Idaho have passed similar laws.
In California, state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, has introduced his own version of nullification. A proposed constitutional amendment would "prohibit the effectiveness or enforcement" of requirements that insurance companies provide coverage to all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions and that individuals have health insurance coverage – unless California voters go to the ballot and approve them.
Such single-state nullification won't pass legal muster. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution – the Supremacy Clause – says that federal laws take precedence over state law. The Civil War was fought over this issue – and decided in favor of national union.
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