The latest battle cry of the tea party movement — nullification! — is catching on in Tennessee, according to one conservative state lawmaker.
On the far-right Mike Church Show on the Sirius radio network this week, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, said she may introduce legislation purporting to let Tennessee declare null and void any federal law the state deems unconstitutional. She said she would target the pending health-care reform legislation as the first federal law to nullify.
She also said she favors a state constitutional amendment giving citizens the right to choose their own health care.
“We have to do both,” Lynn said. “We have to have a law immediately, and then we also have to have a constitutional amendment to protect our citizens through our constitution.”
Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democrats’ political caucus, said Tuesday Lynn’s comments harkened back to Civil War-era arguments. In the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s, South Carolina passed a law nullifying federal tariffs, but the state backed down after President Andrew Jackson sent Navy warships to the Charleston harbor.
“Susan Lynn is yearning for times gone by,” Turner said. “Maybe we could put the poor people back to sharecropping and slavery and let the people up at the big house have all the nice things. We’ve already had that fight about states’ rights."
Lynn responded, “I can’t even imagine that’s a serious comment.”
“At the state level is where we regulate insurance and the professional practice of health care,” she told The City Paper. “The federal government has no power to regulate these things.”
Nullification is an idea that's growing out of the conservative states’ rights movement. It’s trumpeted on far-right blogs and Web sites as gaining steam around the country. According to one commentator, bills will be introduced in the legislatures of as many as 20 states next year.
Lynn, who is running for the state Senate in 2010, said Republican lawmakers talked about nullification Tuesday before a conference call to discuss January's special legislative session on education reform.
“It came up in chitchat before the conference call and it really seemed like almost everyone was interested in it,” she said. “People are very interested and they are looking at it.”
But even two of Lynn’s most conservative House colleagues told The City Paper they were skeptical about whether states can choose which federal laws to follow and which to ignore.
“I don’t think we can do it, honestly,” said Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
Rep. Glen Casada, chairman of the House Republican political caucus, said: “Susan’s a sharp girl, but I don’t know, I didn’t realize states had that right to nullify specific laws passed by the federal government.”
With its new Republican legislative majority, Tennessee has jumped to the forefront of tea party causes. Last session, the legislature overwhelmingly adopted Lynn’s resolution demanding that the federal government recognize Tennessee’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
Lawmakers also approved the so-called Firearms Freedom Act, which purports to bar federal regulation of made-in-Tennessee guns and ammunition. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has since warned Tennessee’s gun dealers in a letter that the law is meaningless.
Just before Christmas, Lynn and another state lawmaker, Rep. Debra Maggart, asked state Attorney General Bob Cooper to take “appropriate legal action” against the federal government if the health-care bill becomes law.
"It is clear by the wording of the legislation itself that not every state would face a similar and equal burden," they wrote. "We see this as a violation of equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and a breach of the U.S. Constitution."
Lynn said Cooper, a Democrat, has agreed to meet with her Wednesday. “I don’t know that he will take action but I hope he will,” she said.