By Terry Baynes
Feb 11 (Reuters) - A member of Oklahoma's House of
Representatives has asked the state's attorney general for legal
guidance on whether the state legislature can block the
Affordable Care Act and other federal laws it considers
Republican Lewis Moore, the chair of the House States'
Rights Committee, announced on Friday that he had asked Attorney
General Scott Pruitt for a legal opinion on the legislature's
ability to nullify the implementation of the federal laws.
"We're looking for speed bumps and legal remedies to stay
within the boundaries of what law abiding citizens would expect
us to do," Moore said.
A spokeswoman for Pruitt, who has filed his own lawsuit
challenging the federal government's ability to implement
federal health insurance exchanges, said the office was in the
process of reviewing correspondence from Moore. She declined to
comment on the nullification bills.
There are at least four bills pending in the Oklahoma
legislature that would declare President Barack Obama's
healthcare law unconstitutional. Two of those bills would allow
for the state to criminally prosecute federal or state officials
that try to enforce the Affordable Care Act.
Under a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Ritze, House Bill 1021,
any federal official who tries to enforce the law would be
guilty of a felony and face a fine of up to $5,000. State
officials would face potential misdemeanor charges and fines of
up to $1,000.
Ritze said that Congress overstepped its powers under the
U.S. Constitution when it made citizens purchase healthcare or
face a fine. As a result, the state has a right to ignore the
law and ban its enforcement, he said.
Oklahoma is one of six states considering similar
legislation that would nullify the healthcare overhaul,
according to the Tenth Amendment Center, an organization that
promotes states' rights.
Critics call the legislative efforts futile and misguided.
Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, state law yields
to federal law, said Rick Tepker, a professor at the University
of Oklahoma School of Law. States can withhold support or
cooperation when it comes to federal law, but they cannot
nullify it with their own laws, he said.
"Any member of the legislature who seeks to promote this
raises questions about his ability to honor his oath, which is
to uphold the Constitution," said Tepker. He said the bills were
likely political posturing for voters, with little legal effect.
But states can void laws that exceed Congress's powers to
act, said Michael Boldin, the executive director of the Tenth
Amendment Center. He cited the founders' writings in the
Federalist Papers as support for states' nullification power.
One of the best examples, Boldin said, is the 18 states that
have voted to legalize medical marijuana in defiance of federal
"If Oklahoma went it alone, the feds are going to spank them
down. But if you see 15 or 20 states doing this, it's not easy
for the feds to force them to comply," Boldin said.
Oklahoma was one of over a dozen states that passed laws
refusing to comply with the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, to
impose federal standards on state drivers' licenses for national
security purposes. In December, the Department of Homeland
Security reported that only 13 states had met the requirements
of the federal law.
"We nullified that, and the federal government hasn't forced
us to comply," said Ritze. "They wanted to put a chip in our
Ritze said he did not understand why Moore had asked for
guidance from the state attorney general.
"This is a political issue, not a legal issue.... (It's) out
of the realm of the courts," he said.
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