I participated in a University of Arkansas Law School panel last week reflecting on Cooper v. Aaron, the important U.S. Supreme Court decision that said a state official (Orval Faubus) couldn't impose his state's wishes against a federal court decision (school desegregation).
A panel of scholars, politicians and me discussed nullification and secession 55 years later.
The consensus: Nullification is a frivolous legal argument nowadays. That didn't deter Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville from defending his bill this year to nullify federal firearms law. Secession? Theoretically, it could still happen. Practicalities are another matter.
My point was this: People never stop trying to find ways to nullify things they don't like. Particularly a certain sort of Southern conservative embodied by today's Republican Party.
Three days later, the U.S. government shut down full operations because Tea Party Republicans said they wouldn't approve a budget including money for implementing the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
The law was passed three years ago. President Obama won re-election last year in a campaign pitched largely on opposition to his signature health care law. But massive resistance has never stopped.
Arkansas Republicans think the image of President Obama alone will give them a bigger electoral mandate in 2014. In the meanwhile, there is no fight too petty for them to wage to keep more people from receiving health coverage.
Last week, Arkansas Republicans in the legislature delayed a review of a $4.5 million federally paid contract to advertise the expansion of health coverage. Lack of information and misinformation are rampant. For the system to work, it must be understood and well used. This will expand the pool to include healthy people with low health costs.
Republicans said last week they wanted to wait for the new rates under the health exchanges before considering the ad contract. Come Monday of this week, with rates published, Republicans again refused to give a favorable review to the advertising contract because, well, it's just not the time. Sen. Bryan King said there's another election in 2014! If people like him are elected to take office in 2015, well, who knows? Obamacare might finally be reversed five years after the fact. This may not be textbook nullification, but the effect is the same.
Morril Harriman, a veteran former legislator and Gov. Mike Beebe's chief of staff, commented that he had deep pessimism about the ability to form public policy because polarization had moved from Washington to Little Rock. I mentioned this on Twitter and got instant support for Harriman's pessimism. Two paid Republican shills reflexively sneered at Harriman's remarks as nothing but sour grapes that Beebe isn't all powerful. Baloney. No governor — at least since Faubus — has enjoyed such power. Consensus once was possible on many issues. But the prevailing Republican sentiment is that there is only one way to compromise — their way. Everybody else shut up.
Underlying all this is the Republicans' refusal to accept the legitimacy of President Obama or the law. Led in Arkansas by Tom Cotton and Tim Griffin, Republicans think it a legitimate bargaining tactic to hold government, the livelihood of tens of thousands of people and vital help for millions hostage to defeat something they couldn't defeat through a legitimate democratic process.
Can they get away with it? Maybe. Tell a lie often enough and it sometimes is received as fact. Thus, Griffin and Cotton are blaming the government shutdown on President Obama's refusal to bow to economic terrorism. Pay their ransom or hostages die.
Imagine if the Democratic Senate said it wouldn't pass a budget until the House required popularly supported background checks at gun shows. You'd need ear plugs. If not a bulletproof vest.