Columbia, SC — With the Nullification Caucus tying up the Legislature, perhaps a few level-headed types in that body, preferably a mix of Democrats and Republicans, should seek an opinion from Attorney General Alan Wilson.
That might begin with Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which says that This Constitution, and the laws which shall be made in pursuance 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.
It couldnt be more clear.
Each legislator, and each judge, takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of South Carolina and the Constitution of the United States. The question, therefore, is whether a legislator who votes to nullify a federal law is in violation of his oath of office. Lets not even discuss whether that might constitute grounds for impeachment.
In the 1830s, nullification of a bill that raised tariffs was temporarily resolved only after federal troops had been sent to Charleston. Congress finally worked out a compromise. South Carolinas Joel R. Poinsett, the cool-headed Unionist leader and later U.S. secretary of war, played the key role in providing guidance for President Andrew Jackson another S.C. native in getting the matter resolved without violence.
That nullification mindset, however, had begun moving to serious talk about secession. South Carolina led the way in 1861, leading the formation of the Confederate States of America, the disaster of the Civil War and the decades of ruin that followed. In 2000, during the battle over removing the Confederate battle flag from the State House dome, 116 historians in the state signed a document about the cause of secession.
It wasnt about states rights, which they pointed out was an argument made by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens almost a decade after the war ended, but slavery. They cited the secession convention, where speaker after speaker talked about the right of the states to protect the institution of slavery.
Today its more a question of nonsense, unfounded arrogance or ignorance. But surely our state attorney general can easily write an opinion, if sought by legislators, reminding all legislators that they take an oath of office to abide by both the S.C. and U.S. constitutions. Such an opinion may serve to prevent a few legislators from making fools of themselves and embarrassing our state.