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Iowa’s Ernst dabbles in nullification extremism

In 2010 and 2012, Republican primary voters nominated some pretty outrageous candidates who were so extreme, they alienated the American mainstream and helped deliver key victories to Democrats. The names are as familiar as they are infamous: Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, et al.

There’s a sense that the GOP learned valuable lessons from these fiascos, and made a conscious, concerted effort to nominate fewer extremists for statewide contests in 2014

Iowa’s Joni Ernst is a notable exception.

As Rachel Maddow noted on her show last month, Ernst has said she would ban abortions and many forms of birth control; she would privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage; she would back an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution; she’s open to impeaching President Obama for unknown reason; and she believes there’s secret information that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday, Ben Jacobs ran a report that’s arguably the more alarming revelation to date: the right-wing U.S. Senate candidate “appears to believe states can nullify federal laws.”

In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right … we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators – as senators or congressman – that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

Jacobs’ report added that Ernst, during her brief tenure as a state senator, hasn’t sponsored pro-nullification legislation, but she did back a resolution that says “the State of Iowa hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” It was introduced in response to “many federal mandates [that] are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

I can appreciate why issues like nullification may seem esoteric to everyday concerns on the minds of Iowa voters, but it’s important to appreciate how this fits into a simple truth: the more the picture of Ernst comes into sharper focus, the more radical she appears.

In this case, Ernst didn’t explicitly call for the nullification of a specific law, but that’s not really the point – Ernst seems to have a general belief that states can nullify federal laws they don’t like, which puts the right-wing Iowan on the furthest fringes of modern American thought

To be clear, this is not in a legal gray area. This isn’t a judgment call. It’s not a question that could go either way if tested in the courts. Rather, the question of whether states can invalidate federal laws they don’t like was decided in the middle of the 19th century – in something called the Civil War – and it was a dispute the nullification crowd lost.

That a competitive U.S. Senate candidate is making comments like these, out loud and on purpose, is pretty scary, to put it mildly. We’re not talking about the usual Democrat-vs.-Republican, left-vs.-right debate; this is settled American law vs. looney tunes.

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