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Constitution 101

Published March 5, 2013 6:13 pm

Federal law is supreme. Period.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."

— The Constitution of the United States, Article VI.

And that is that.

Or that would be that, in a state where more lawmakers were concerned with carrying out their own duties, not trying to aggrandize themselves by promoting flatly unconstitutional schemes on everything from gun laws to sage grouse.

The above snippet of the Constitution is called, perhaps immodestly, the Supremacy Clause. It means that, while states can and do pass a great many laws that have to do with internal business, no state has the power to lay its own decisions above those of the federal government.

Just about every time some state has tried to get around that, they lost. Sometimes in court. Sometimes at the point of a federal bayonet.

Yet again this year we have far too many members of the Utah Legislature seriously proposing and holding hearings on various bills that seek to exempt this state or its subdivisions from federal gun laws, federal land policy, federal endangered species laws, etc.

Our lawmakers can protest what they think are unfair or unwise federal laws all they want. They can call on their members of Congress to change those laws. They can file suit — in federal court — in hopes of getting those laws declared unconstitutional. Their rights to do all those things are in the Constitution, too.

But legislators are deceiving themselves — and, worse, misleading their constituents — every time they argue for a bill that would, for example, seek to place Utah's laws concerning the possession and use of firearms above that of any and all federal laws addressing the same issue. That bill, HB114, passed a Utah House committee Monday, hopefully on its way to oblivion or, failing that, to being summarily voided in the first federal courtroom it sees.

Just imagine how much better the political life of Utahns would be if our lawmakers spent their time and energy carrying out the duties they do have, duties such as providing for a properly funded system of public education. Or establishing ethical and campaign finance laws that would — along with a proper understanding of the separation of powers — make our Legislature a model rather than, too often, an object of ridicule.