Republicans: states can ignore federal laws

August 07, 2013, 1:36 PM GMT+0

Americans are divided on whether states should be allowed to ignore federal laws which they regard as unconstitutional, with most Republicans favoring it.

The idea that states can ignore - or nullify - federal laws which they deem to be unconstitutional has a long history, with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison first articulating the idea that states can nullify unconstitutional laws. This view has been consistently rejected, however, with federal courts having the sole right to determine the constitutionality of a federal law. In recent months the issue has returned to prominence, with a number of states passing nullification laws which will supposedly prevent federal officials from enforcing new gun control laws. Kansas recently passed a law saying that any law which violates the second amendment does not apply in the state.

The latest YouGov research shows that Americans are, narrowly, opposed to the idea of nullification. 44% say that states should not be able to ignore federal laws, while 31% say that they should be able to.

The difference in attitudes between Republicans and Democrats is particularly striking. Republicans widely support the concept of nullification, with 55% supporting it and 24% opposing it. Among Democrats 62% oppose nullification and only 12% support it.

The differences are smaller, though still noteworthy, when responses are broken down by region. The south and the midwest are the most supportive of nullification, though in both regions people are marginally more likely to oppose than support nullification. Opinions in the northeast and west are, however, much more likely to be hostile to nullification. This correlates with the partisan split, as the south and midwest are more heavily Republican than the west and northeast.

From a historical perspective, the results are a dramatic reversal. The Republican party was long characterised during the era of Lincoln and the Civil War by strong support for federal supremacy and opposition to nullification and secession, while Democrats generally supported broader rights for states.

Full results can be found here.

Image courtesy of Getty.

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