Can States Decline to Enforce Federal Laws?

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As long as we’re on the subject of shiny new gun laws, Steve Benen points out yet another offering from the great state of Texas:

Perhaps the most controversial of the gun-related items, HB 1076 would ban state agencies from enforcing any new federal gun laws, including background checks. The bill passed the Republican-led House on a largely party line vote Monday, but legal experts say the attempt to “nullify” possible future federal laws likely wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That’s absurd beyond the word absurd. I like the author personally but that’s just pure political grandstanding,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth).

This is actually a little more interesting. This legislation doesn’t claim that any new gun law would be unconstitutional, it merely says that no state officers will enforce it. If the feds want it enforced, that’s up to them.

I’m not really sure what the legal status of such a law would be, but I don’t think it’s self evidently absurd. The intersection of federal law and state enforcement is fairly complex, and states have considerable discretion about where and how they apply their resources.

In any case, I wonder what we’d all think about the constitutionality of this bill if it dealt with, say, federal marijuana laws instead of federal gun laws?

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler confirms via both email and blog post that this Texas law would probably be constitutional. “States can’t obstruct, but they don’t have to help,” he says. More here.


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