The Missouri House’s Ridiculous Overreach

The Missouri state House has passed a bill that would make it a Class A Misdemeanor for a federal employee to implement the Affordable Care Act, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a one-year jail sentence.

The bill recites the tired argument that the ACA exceeds the commerce clause of the Constitution, and it was written under the mistaken impression that state legislatures have the power to declare a federal law unconstitutional.

As you know, states do not have the power to declare a federal law unconstitutional: that is the job of federal judges. Nor is the ACA unconstitutional. The theory of nullification put forth by the Missouri GOP is similar to arguments against desegregation in the 1950s.

The whole thing is silly, or it would be if extremist legislators in the Missouri House didn’t take themselves seriously. Their selective misreading and misinterpretation of the Constitution perpetuates a basic misunderstanding of how our form of government works and presents the anarchic idea that if you don’t like a law, you don’t have to follow it.

After the Tea Party-esque jumble of a constitutionality argument, the most important sections of the law are 4 and 5:

4. No public officer or employee of this state shall have any authority to enforce or attempt to enforce any aspect of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.


5. Any official, agent, or employee of the United States government who undertakes any act within the borders of this state that enforces or attempts to enforce any aspect of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

This would essentially make it illegal for a Department of Health and Human Services worker to enter the state. A member of Congress talking would face a year in jail for helping the people of his or her district understand how the ACA is being implemented. Any state legislator who put forward a bill implementing a state-based exchange could be grabbed by the seargent-at-arms and whisked from the General Assembly into a cell. The same is true of any state employee who works on the project.

Fortunately, the bill doesn’t have enough support in the Missouri state Senate to become law. But the shenanigans in the House remind most Missourian that they are getting tired of the crazy coming out of the General Assembly.

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