Time for States to Reclaim Their Sovereignty

Motivated by last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down components of the Voting Rights Act which required some states to obtain federal clearance before making changes to election law, civil rights groups now pursue changes to federal law which would effectively nationalize state election processes. From the Atlanta Daily World, reported earlier this month:


In January, a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers accepted the Supreme Court’s challenge to update the VRA, by introducing the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.

While the proposed VRAA covers states with five  violations in 15 years and jurisdictions that show continuous low minority turnout and enhances Department of Justice’s power to monitor elections, it only requires Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to “pre-clear” changes to voting laws. Voters’ rights advocates have said that North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida should also be covered. The bill also goes soft on restrictive voter ID laws, installing a special rule that separates voter ID laws from other discriminatory practices.

Yes, that’s a non-editorial news report referring to voter ID laws as “discriminatory.” You get the gist that many of these so-called civil rights activists wish to endow the federal government with sweeping power over state election systems.

Before that happens, there remains a window of opportunity for advocates of state sovereignty to pursue a bold course toward reigning in federal overreach. While the notion of nullification has maintained popularity among constitutional activist groups, it lacks teeth in an era where the federal Supreme Court holds final say over conflicts between federal and state interpretation. Instead, states might consider reforms which would reinvigorate state legislative power over their federal delegations, deterring bad law before it happens.


One proposal in development would empower a state’s legislature to deny incumbent U.S. senators or congresspeople placement on future ballots in the event their conduct was found to violate federal or state constitutions. Imagine, your senator votes in a manner defiant of your state’s interests, then your legislature effectively recalls them by keeping their name off future ballots. It could go a long way toward restoring the proper relationship between the states and their federal compact, which was undone in large part by the direct election of senators enabled by the 17th Amendment.

Too bold? Would it hold up if challenged in court? Is this a good way to hold federal legislators accountable to the several states? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 15:17 minutes long; 14.73 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)


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