Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, comparing himself at one point to Andrew Jackson in 1832, managed to delay Tuesday a vote on legislation that declares Tennessee has a right to nullify federal gun laws and charge federal agents enforcing them with committing a felony.
The committee voted 5-4 to grant Kelsey’s call to postpone a vote on the proposal (SB250) for one week while he seeks a legal opinion from state Attorney General Bob Cooper on whether it would violate the U.S. Constitution.
Sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, said the U.S. Constitution authorizes states – through their legislatures – to decide the validity of federal laws.
She understands that lawyers believe the Supreme Court is the “ultimate arbitrator” of constitutionality, Beavers said, and that has allowed justics “setting themselves up as a dictator” and “generation after generation we have just accepted that.”
But that is wrong, she said, and the 10th Amendment lets states decide what laws are constitution and which can be ignored or nullified.
Beavers’ view was reenforced by June Griffin of Dayton, who heads the Tennessee Commission on the Bill of Rights. Griffin said Tennessee’s own constitution cast upon legislators – and sheriffs around the state – a duty to resist federal intrusion by supporting the bill.
“I fear what will come under God if we do not get these guarantees from our legislators,” said Griffin of the bill.
But Kelsey and two other attorneys on the committee — Sens. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Lowe Finney, D-Jackson – posed multiple critical questions about whether Beavers’ bill itself was unconstitutional.
Kelsey told Beavers that Andrew Jackson, as president, faced a crisis when South Carolina sought to nullify federal tariffs that was resolved in favor of federal supremacy when “the state very wisely backed down at the last second, pushing off the Civil War for another 20 years.”
“I feel somewhat similar to him (Jackson) in this instance,” said Kelsey.
Overbey said the bill raised a question of unconstitutional “vagueness” because it is unclear on what laws – presumably those already on the books and those that may come in the future — would trigger nullification and criminal prosecution of federal agents.
Finney noted that a Class B felony, the punishment for federal authorities enforcing unconstitutional laws in Tennessee, is typically reserved for such serious crimes as attempted murder. He said this raised a constitutional question on the appropriateness of the penalty.
Beaver’s bill is presented as an amendment to the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act, passed in 2009. That law says that if a gun is manufactured in Tennessee, then kept within the state’s borders, it is not subject to federal gun regulations. The new version says all gun laws deemed unconstitutional by state authorities — regardless of where the weapon is made – are invalid in Tennessee.
Note: Legislative video of the debate on SB250 is HERE. Recommended for constitutional scholars and/or political junkies.