'That's not how it works': Oklahoma House passes GOP bill that would let state legislature defy federal laws

'That's not how it works': Oklahoma House passes GOP bill that would let state legislature defy federal laws
News & Politics

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that, according to the bill's supporters, would allow the state legislature to declare federal laws it disagrees with unconstitutional.

Dillon Richards, a reporter for KOCO-TV (the ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City), explains, "The bill would let the legislature ask the attorney general to challenge federal laws in court. Should the AG decline to do so, the legislature could declare federal laws unconstitutional."

Republican supporters of the bill claim it is designed to combat overreach by the federal government.

Richards quotes Oklahoma Rep. Kevin West, a Republican, as saying, "The primary purpose of this bill is to push back on executive orders that infringe on states' rights and on constitutional rights." And he quotes another Republican who serves in the Oklahoma House, Rep. Jay Steagall, as saying, "We're a sovereign state, and we have authorities as a state."

But some Oklahoma Democrats are denouncing the bill as unconstitutional. Democrat Emily Virgin, Oklahoma's House minority leader, told KOCO, "We're saying we have the power in this building to declare what Congress did unconstitutional. Folks, that's not how it works. We don't get to magically say in this building, 'That's unconstitutional, so we're not going to follow federal law.' That's not how it works."

Rep. Andy Fugate, another Democrat in the Oklahoma House, told KOCO, "This one bill by itself is going to make a lot of attorneys a lot of money in this state. There is no more clear violation of the separation of powers."

An example of federal law overriding state laws occurred when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Before that, the drinking age varied from state to state. New York State, for example, had a drinking age of 18 in 1982 and 1983, while the drinking age was 21 in Pennsylvania — meaning that someone who was 19 could legally drink in a bar in Manhattan or Brooklyn but not in Philadelphia. When the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 went into effect, however, New York State and Pennsylvania both had the same drinking age — and New York State didn't have the power to defy the new federal law.

The Oklahoma House bill claims that Oklahoma can defy federal laws it opposes. Virgin and Fugate disagree.

Before it becomes law, the bill have to be passed by the Oklahoma Senate as well and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican.

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