Can States Decline to Enforce Federal Laws?

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


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.

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate