After about an hour of debate Monday, Feb. 19, the Idaho House voted to kill House Bill 461, on nullification of federal laws, with a 40-29 vote.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, declared Idaho lawmakers have the power to nullify federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
“It should be obvious to us over the years there’s been quite a few cases that many of our constituents and us probably don’t think were fully constitutional,” Shepherd said.
However, the majority of the representatives seemed to believe the legislation would cause more problems than it would fix. Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, cited Federalist Paper 80, which reads that “uniformity in the interpretation of national laws” is a necessity.
“This idea that states are superior to the U.S. constitution has been debunked, not for 150 years, it’s been debunked for 200 years,” Erpelding said. “Voting for this does nothing except expose our state to legal challenges.”
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said while he disagreed with certain Supreme Court rulings as well, voiding federal laws would be inappropriate for a state to do.
“That debate was resolved in a bloody civil war that cost over 600,000 American lives and over 3 million wounded,” he said.
However, those in favor said the bill is necessary for lawmakers to best represent their constituents.
“It will send a message that the legislature of the state of Idaho is willing to stand for its citizens,” said Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls; and Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony also spoke in favor of the bill.
“The federal government cannot micromanage small communities,” Barbieri said.
The attorney general released an opinion last year on the same bill, also brought by Shepherd, that if made into law, the bill would likely not survive a court challenge. The bill died without receiving a full hearing.
Nina Rydalch covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.