Last week's discussion about whether the Supreme Court should legalize gay marriage was attended by the usual romanticizing of the special role of state legislatures as democracy's laboratories. The question of legalizing gay marriage should be resolved on a state-by-state basis (never mind equal protection under the law), the anti-marriage-equality case goes, because they more purely reflect voters' will than that of unelected federal justices. Well, if states are the laboratories of democracy then a few state legislators qualify as the mad scientists of same.
Which brings me to the calendar: today is April Fools' Day and to mark its passing here is some of the more exotic work produced by these political mad men—see if you can guess which of these bills are real and which are just jokes of the day.
The end is near. Texas state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione is truly this year's gold standard for producing quixotic legislation. The freshman lawmaker is sponsoring a bill, with Gov. Rick Perry's support, which would move the Lone Star state's gold holdings from the Federal Reserve in New York back to Texas and store it in a new Texas Bullion Depository. Perry told Glenn Beck last week that his state is as capable of protecting its "physical gold" as well as the Fed. Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he wants the gold back in Texas as a sign of financial security in the event of national financial calamity. "This cures a problem before it can happen," he told the paper.
That problem—an economic collapse of such scope as to leave the states to financially fend for themselves—exists more as an apocalyptic vision on the right than a real world imminent possibility, but that doesn't stop legislators from trying to cure it. Back in 2011, Utah enacted a law making gold and silver legal tender. The Arizona state Senate recently passed a similar bill, which is now sitting in that state's House. Indiana and Kansas are considering similar bills, while Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming have already killed legislation along these lines.
Night of the living 10th-ers. Nullification is back, again. Citing the 10th Amendment, activists on the far right continue to push the notion that the U.S. government has overstepped its bounds and that states therefore have the right to unilaterally declare specific laws or actions unconstitutional. So far this year there have been nullification efforts in at least a half-dozen states. Mississippi's House, for example, is considering a resolution calling for a joint committee to propose legislation "nullifying specific federal laws and regulations which are outside the scope of the powers delegated by the people to the federal government in the Constitution."
A bill in the West Virginia House would declare that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may not regulate coal mined in West Virginia that doesn't cross state lines (never mind that pollution pays no mind to such boundaries). The Alaska House passed a bill in February that would exempt guns in the Last Frontier from federal gun control laws and make federal agents trying to enforce gun control laws liable for prosecution. Texas—no surprise—and Missouri are considering similar legislation, while Tennessee and Wyoming killed their versions. Meanwhile Oklahoma's House and Kansas' House both passed bills that would exempt firearms and ammunition manufactured and kept within those states from federal gun control laws.
Montana's legislature last week passed a bill that would prohibit state and local law enforcement officials from enforcing any new federal bans on semi-automatic weapons or oversized magazines. Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was "unnecessary political theatre" and would require Montana law enforcement to violate federal law.
What the proponents of all of these laws fail to understand is that the nullification debate is long settled: States can't declare federal laws unconstitutional or inoperative today any more than in the 1830s, the 1860s or the 1960s.
The legislation of Dr. Moreau. While overshadowed by the gay marriage debate, another front in the culture wars—abortion—has seen significant recent action. Two of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country were enacted in March. First Arkansas' Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto to enact a law which would ban abortions at 12 weeks if a heartbeat could be detected. The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert, has compared abortion to the holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. Not to be outdone, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a law a few weeks later which bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detectable at all, which can be as early as six weeks into the pregnancy (Roe v. Wade protects abortions until viability, which is around 24 weeks). Other states—including Ohio and Kansas—are considering similar bills.
But for sheer weirdness, no anti-abortion bill can beat the one proffered by Mississippi state Rep. William "Tracy" Arnold. His bill—which died in committee—not only would have declared fetuses to be people (with the attendant criminalization of abortion) but would also make it a crime to "create or attempt to create a human-animal hybrid." Because that's apparently a problem down in Mississippi.
I'm running out of space and I haven't even gotten to the Montana bill that would let criminals receive corporal punishment rather than jail time; or the Tennessee bill which would give the legislature control of major party Senate nominations; or the Missouri bill which would make it a felony to introduce gun control legislation.
Which of these bills is a joke? They're all real—joke's on the rest of us.
- Read Mary Kate Cary: It's Time for Marion Barry to Retire
- Read Ford O'Connell: It Doesn't Take Guts for Democrats to Support Gay Marriage
- Read Susan Milligan: Rep. Young Shows GOP Still Has a Ways to Go With Latino Voters