“Before the war, it was said ‘the United States are’ — grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is,’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an ‘is.’” — Shelby Foote
You’d think with veto-proof supermajorities, and so many challenges and opportunities facing our state, the Republicans who control the Utah Legislature and the governor’s office would be rolling up their sleeves to tackle significant public policy issues.
Maybe water, air, public lands, affordable housing and homelessness, infrastructure, education. You know, the things affecting all of us.
What we get instead is virtue signaling to appease the rabid Utah GOP base with trumped-up problems that will be tied up in lawsuits for years to come, costing us taxpayers untold monies.
This goes beyond the performative, red-meat bills rushed through the legislative session in its first dozen days. The bills that ended diversity programs in public education and banned transgender individuals from restrooms in public buildings.
Now the Legislature has passed, and Gov. Spencer Cox has signed, a measure that lays out a process for the state to pick fights with the federal government. Fights they will, and should, usually lose, but only after bringing great shame upon the state, and costing its taxpayers a lot of money.
Titled, “The Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act,” SB57 lays out the procedure for the Legislature and governor to challenge any federal law or regulation lawmakers happen to dislike, specifically by telling all state agencies and local governments in Utah that they are not to obey or help to carry out such provisions.
In other words, Utah’s political class thinks it would be fun to relitigate the Civil War.
This time, it probably won’t end so badly. But there’s no way it will end well.
Though it does serve to further distract the attention of the Utah voters from the fact that our leaders aren’t attending to the real problems of our state and are, instead, lumbering into this election year with more shiny baubles to amuse the Fox News crowd.
Our Legislature wants the right to make whatever laws and rules please them without having to look over their shoulders at the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the federal courts that enforce them. To ignore the same federal system that has been the primary guarantor of individual rights — in fits and starts — over the past 160 years.
Maybe the Utah Legislature thinks it would be a good idea to ignore the promise of the 14th Amendment to guarantee equal protection of the laws across the nation. To deny women the right to vote. Or deport undocumented immigrants. Or seize lands owned by the people of the United States to be used for mining and drilling. Or pollute the air without concern for the damage it causes lungs in other states.
The thinking behind SB57 is that Utah, as a “sovereign state,” should have the power to do all that without concern for individual rights or recognition of the long-settled principle of federal supremacy.
This is a recipe for disaster on a continental scale. If federal law and federal court rulings can just be ignored by any state that chooses to do so, the United States ceases to become a nation and the rights of individual citizens — of “We the People” — stop being the principle that unites us all.
The process specified in the bill is complicated enough that it probably won’t be used every day. Such a challenge to federal authority would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both the Utah Senate and House of Representatives, signed by the governor, run past the state attorney general for his input and win the imprimatur of the governor of Texas.
No, that last part isn’t in the bill. Though Utah’s proclivity to copy the Lone Star State’s insurrectionist behavior is distressing.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest act of defiance has been to deny federal Border Patrol agents access to stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border that happen to fall in Texas, having the Texas National Guard install razor wire and forcing federal agents to ignore the fact that three migrants drowned while making the dangerous trek north.
Utah’s Gov. Cox, along with 24 other Republican governors, issued statements in support of Abbott’s rebellion.
Of course, Cox urged, during his recent Mr. Rogers-like State of the State Address, for Utah to, “Stay weird.” Well, not to worry, governor. The Utah Legislature has picked up the challenge.
The U.S. Supreme Court has correctly ruled against the Texas efforts to declare itself above the federal government and its exclusive authority to regulate immigration. Abbott — and Cox — apparently don’t care. They mischaracterize the mess at the border — and it is a mess — as an “invasion” that states have the power to put down.
It isn’t. And they don’t.
Meanwhile, as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney points out, measures that would better address illegal immigration have been hammered out by the Biden administration and Senate Republican leaders. But, at the command of Donald Trump, who would rather have the fight than the solution, congressional Republicans are blocking the deal.
So much for Cox and his “Disagree Better” campaign.
Disagree with the federal government? Just deny that it has authority and go on your merry way.
William Tecumseh Sherman would like a word.