Our Opinion: Dismantling authority invites chaos

A proposal now being considered in the Missouri Senate invites chaos.

The chaos involves not only political philosophy, but specific policy matters.

A measure by Sen. Brian Nieves seeks to amend the state Constitution to prohibit “the Missouri legislative, executive and judicial branch of government from recognizing, enforcing, or acting in furtherance of any federal action that exceeds the powers delegated to the federal government.”

A statewide vote would be needed to approve the plan by Nieves, R-Washington.

This is not the only bill by Nieves that would allow the state to ignore, or nullify, federal laws that the senator believes are inconsistent with the concept of federalism.

Federalism refers to the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which says powers not delegated to or withheld from the federal government by the Constitution are “reserved for the states respectively, or to the people.”

The philosophical conflict arises because federalism is deemed to be inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause,” which essentially says federal law trumps state law when the two clash.

The judiciary is the branch of government established to adjudicate and rule on these conflicts. Federal court rulings, traditionally, have upheld the supremacy of federal law.

Nieves’ proposal would prohibit Missouri’s executive, legislative and judicial branches from recognizing, enforcing or advancing those rulings if they exceed “the powers delegated to the federal government.”

But what state official or entity determines whether a federal action exceeds federal power and, consequently, must be ignored? What if the branches of state government disagree? Again, who decides?

On a number of issues, Nieves’ proposal goes beyond philosophy and addresses specific policy matters. If approved, a sampling of prohibited federal laws would include: restrictions on the right to bear arms; legalization or funding of abortions; and mandating recognition of same-sex marriage.

We support federalism and are disturbed when the federal government trespasses into territory reserved for the states.

But we also cherish the founding principles of separation of powers and of checks and balances. We believe Nieves’ proposal violates those principles.

Sen. Nieves has every right to push his agenda on policy issues. When he asks fellow lawmakers and Missouri voters essentially to deconstruct founding principles, however, he ventures into reckless governing.

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