Bill: Government lawyers must study federalism
States’ rights • Lawmaker contends state lawyers do not understand the basics.
Published: February 14, 2014 12:27PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 09:38PM

Rep. Ken Ivory says lawyers for the state and local governments know too little about states’ rights to effectively battle the federal government. So he is moving to require them ­— and judges ­— to take an online seminar every two years to stress the “sovereignty, supremacy and jurisdiction” of states.

The House Government Operation Committee voted 7-1 Friday to pass his HB120 imposing that new rule and sent it to the full House.

Ivory, R-West Jordan, said he got the idea after watching arguments in a state lawsuit against the federal government over the jurisdiction of federal and state police officers. He said the judge misstated states’ rights, and Utah’s attorneys seemed at a loss how to counter that.

“We need to make sure our lawyers know what the rights, powers and authorities of a state are,” Ivory said.

The bill would instruct the state’s Commission on Federalism to develop a curriculum for the course, which Ivory said could be offered online. Legislative analysts estimate the cost at $23,000.

Among items the bill says must be covered are the history and implementation of the 10th Amendment, which gives states jurisdiction over powers not specifically granted to the federal government.

It also calls for instruction on “how and when challenges should be made to a federal law or regulation,” “the relationship between the state and federal governments,” and “the separate and independent powers of the state that serve as a check on the federal government.”

Ivory said the bill would require any state and local government employee who is a member of the bar to take the seminar ­— including judges. He said it is wise to include judges because it is good for “advisors and implementers” of law to review the principles of federalism.

In his arguments, Ivory quoted former Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks, now an LDS Church apostle, as saying federalism is “one of the most divinely inspired aspects of our Constitution,” and Ivory said it must be used more as a check on the power of the federal government.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, was the only member to oppose the proposal. She questioned requiring a course not sanctioned by the Utah State Bar for attorneys who are already “expected to have a certain level of expertise.”

Ivory has been a leader in the Legislature’s fight for state rights, including passing a bill two years ago demanding that the federal government give Utah the title to federal public lands in the state, except for parks and monuments overseen by the National Park Service.