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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Nullification Season: 200 State Bills and Counting

It’s less than one month into the 2015 state legislative season and the Tenth Amendment Center counts more than 200 bills seeking to block or limit federal power.

Sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, these bills range from narrowly focused legislation that would allow terminally-ill people access to experimental drugs and medical treatments despite FDA regulations, to bills that would deny resources and assistance from states to the NSA. Other legislation addresses the Second Amendment, the federal prohibition of hemp and marijuana, common core, the use of drones for surveillance, the Affordable Care Act, and even federal grant programs that arm local police with battlefield-ready military equipment.

Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said the sheer number of bills indicates just how mainstream state action to block federal power has become.

“This is unprecedented,” he said. From mass spying, to gun control, property rights, militarized police, the drug war and everything in between, we’ve never seen so much activity to push back on a state level.”

Some say all of this state action merely represents a right-wing movement and backlash against President Obama. Boldin bristles at this notion.

“The great misconception is that this is a right-wing movement that is trying to oppose federal power,” he said. “With some issues, like the Second Amendment and the ACA, that’s certainly true,” he continued. “But we’re tracking more than 200 bills, and many of the most successful – like marijuana, hemp farming, “right to try” bills, and stopping NSA spying – lean strongly left or are totally bipartisan. Anyone claiming this is a partisan fad is either not paying attention, or lying.”

A broader understanding of the legal principle many of these bills rest on also helped spur the movement. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the anti-commandeering doctrine, a legal principle declaring that the federal government cannot require or force states to expend resources or manpower to help it carry out its acts or programs.

“State governments are learning they can simply say to the feds, ‘You want this program, you do it, we aren’t going to help,’” Boldin said. “The beauty of this strategy is in many situations, the feds just don’t have the manpower or resources to get the job done without help from the states. They depend on the states for pretty much everything,” he continued.

“States have the power to virtually shut down most federal programs within their borders simply by saying, ‘No!’ We generally call these acts nullification, but some disagree. We don’t really care what you call it, though, as long as the end result is the same – stopping the federal government from doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

Most state legislative sessions for 2015 just got underway in January, with others states starting in the coming weeks. For a list of major issues and links to legislation, visit

Mike Maharrey