Arizona Legislators Engage in "Dangerous" Scheme to Undermine U.S. Constitution

The 2016 Arizona legislative session hasn’t even officially started, but already, state politicians are scheming to undermine the U.S.  Constitution and at least two branches of the federal government.

Behold House Bill 2024.

It’s a bill that says Arizona doesn’t have to follow or fund presidential executive orders, Supreme Court decisions, or any other directives from federal agencies unless Congress has signed those orders, decisions, or directives into law.

With a deep sigh, Paul Bender, a former dean of the Arizona State University Law School and current professor of U.S. and Arizona constitutional law courses, tells New Times that state legislators try to do this every year.

“It’s all based on their hope that they can declare semi-independence from the United States or refuse to go along with anything [from the federal government] that they don’t like,” he says. “It’s not only dumb for them to do it, but it’s dangerous.”

Bender worries about the perceived precedence it sets: “It might give people the idea that they can declare themselves free of federal laws they don’t like [or] encourage people to think that they can just ignore federal authority.” 

Any court would find this bill unconstitutional, he says, but that doesn’t stop state politicians from trying.

“I wish they wouldn’t do it because they’re just tempting people to do [things like the group in Oregon] is doing. It’s dangerous,” he adds. 

“People get killed that way – there may still be a shootout. The federal government isn’t going to let them sit there forever. And if [the state Legislature] is encouraging people to do that, damage could be done.

“Maybe the people up in Oregon don’t need that encouragement, but if states start saying, ‘We don’t follow federal law,’ it can lead to bad situations in which people get hurt.”

To be clear, he explains, federal laws “are just not something legislators get to decide. They can have an opinion, but they can’t make a decision about it [and they can’t] just decide they don’t believe in the Supremacy Clause.”

The Supremacy Clause is that part of the Constitution that explicitly says federal law trumps state law:

“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.”
New Times reached out to multiple sponsors of the bill, and while none returned a request for comment, one of them, state Representative Mark Finchem, did speak with other reporters about it.

The Arizona Daily Star reported
 that “[Finchem] said the federal government — and a federal court — cannot force the state to do something that is contrary to the state’s own constitution."

Except that it can, Bender says: “Federal law is the supreme law, and you have to follow it even if your state constitution says you don’t."

He adds that he’s not surprised Arizona politicians disregard the clause given that “they do a remarkable number of unconstitutional things every year.”

HB 2024 also is on the radar of Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club. She tracks bills like these every year as part of her group’s mission to derail any legislative initiative demanding the federal government turn over all U.S. land to the state.

Last year, four separate bills aiming to do just that passed in both chambers and were struck down only by Governor Doug Ducey’s veto. Former Governor Jan Brewer also vetoed a similar bill a few years earlier.

“The Arizona Legislature is always talking about federal overreach. I feel like this is a bit of state government overreach. And it’s just kind of crazy.”

Bottom line, Bender says, Arizona’s legislators “don’t like what the federal government does, and they feel frustrated because they can’t do anything about it. Shey just declare independence. They go to war with things they don’t like rather than accept it.”

Read the full text of HB 2024:
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser