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Lawmaker wants Az to nullify ‘unconstitutional’ federal actions

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PHOENIX – Arizona answers to the U.S. Constitution before it answers to the federal government and shouldn’t have to enforce any action from Washington it considers unconstitutional, a state lawmaker contends.

“The states were set up as a United States and also a check and balance on the United States government,” said Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber.

Crandell authored SCR 1016, which would have voters decide in 2014 whether to declare that Arizona can reject federal actions it deems unconstitutional and refrain from dedicating resources to enforcing them.

The Senate Public Safety Committee endorsed the resolution last week, forwarding it to the floor.

The measure calls for Arizona determine the constitutionality of a federal action by passing a voter referendum or initiative, approving a bill in the state Legislature or “using any other available remedy.”

“The bill has nothing to do with nullifying the law,” Crandell said. “It allows the state of Arizona to look at it and decide if it’s constitutional or not and then direct any agencies. It’s still a state issue.”

Crandell said part of the resolution, which is similar to a proposition that failed to receive the required number of signatures to be put on the 2012 ballot, came from former Republican lawmaker Jonathan Paton.

Paton said he saw the need for a bill after speaking to Pinal County cotton farmers who face regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency.

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“At the end of the day, our founding fathers said that the individual states made up the United States and should basically be the ones that run the United States of America, but what we’ve seen is a reversal of that,” he said.

Crandell’s resolution is the latest in a series of proposals over the last several years aimed at limiting the federal government’s power in Arizona.

In November, voters rejected a ballot proposition authored by Crandell that would have declared Arizona’s sovereignty over air, water, public lands and natural resources within the state, with the exception of American Indian reservations and national parks.

Gregg Cawley, a University of Wyoming political science professor who has studied the often-contentious relationship between Western states and the federal government, said fights over federal and state land are a common complaint.

“The perception of the Western states being disadvantaged has just become a standard rhetoric of conservative Republicans here in the West,” Cawley said.

He said proposals like Crandell’s mirror some of the fears raised by anti-Federalists after the Revolutionary War, when the country was searching for a stronger alternative to the Articles of Confederation.

Anti-Federalists were opposed to the Constitution, which they saw as granting too much power to the federal government.

“It seems like the states just didn’t get along with each other then, and it seems like that’s where we are again,” Cawley said.

Earlier this week, the House Rules Committee rejected a bill calling for a compact among states to propose a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. It’s the third straight year such a measure has failed.

While Crandell’s resolution is more far-reaching, concerns about the potential for new federal controls on gun ownership have Arizona and 15 other states considering bills that would nullify federal gun laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A report by that group said states have used the 10th Amendment, which grants state all powers not specifically granted to the federal government, to argue that they don’t have to enforce federal laws. However, states that fail to follow those laws stand to lose federal funding, it said.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said bills like SCR 1016 raise the idea of secession without saying so explicitly. He said he’s tired of them.

“If you want to secede from the union, introduce a bill and let’s debate secession,” he said. “Stop beating around the bush and nibbling at the edges.”

Crandell said Arizona is within its rights to send a message and protect its citizens through his resolution.

“There’s nothing in here that would even indicate that we’re trying to secede,” he said.

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Sara Smith/Cronkite News Service

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, shown in a 2012 file photo, wants voters to decide in 2014 whether to declare that Arizona can reject federal actions it deems unconstitutional and refrain from dedicating resources to enforcing them.

Nullification precedents

  • Federal courts are able to declare federal laws unconstitutional.
  • States cannot ignore Supreme Court decisions with which they disagree.
  • The federal government can use spending or commerce power to encourage state participation in national laws.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

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