NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A bill in the legislature would give Tennessee a roadmap to nullify any “unconstitutional federal action.”
That would include presidential executive orders and federal court cases.
“Federal court rulings are opinions, they are not law,” Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport), the bill’s sponsor, said. “So, the Constitution is very specific, and the Framers painstakingly made sure those pieces of government were separated.”
However, the bill died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee Tuesday after it failed to get a ‘second’—every bill that goes through legislative committees must get verbal approval from two committee members to allow discussion.
Instead, Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), the committee chair, recommended sending it to a summer study for more research. So, it still could come back next year.
“States have always had that right to nullify, even if they just do it by ignoring it. But it hasn’t happened,” Hulsey said. “So, I thought well, let’s run a bill here that provides a way for it to happen.”
Take cannabis for example. If the federal government were to legalize it across the country, Hulsey said the state could render that unconstitutional if this bill were to pass in the future.
“That would be one you could do it, you could say, ‘No, that’s not your bailiwick, that’s our call,’” he said. “See, what’s really interesting about that is that’s what happened in the Dobbs case.”
Democrats cautioned the bill, saying it’s a sign of legislation that comes with supermajority rule. “Nullification is a dangerous game,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “It harkens back to slavery and pre-Civil War times.”
But Hulsey said the intention isn’t to divide, it’s to protect the state.
“I’ve had people accuse me that I’m trying to start a secession,” he said. “But this bill doesn’t come close to anything like that.”
Hulsey mentioned the governor’s office flagged his bill because it could put Tennessee at risk of losing federal dollars. But he argued it’d be worth it.
“I didn’t swear to the people of my district and state that I’d do all I could do to rake in federal money or accept whatever tyranny comes out of Washington in exchange for money,” Hulsey said. “That’s not what I said.”
Clemmons blasted the concept, saying it’d be a step back for the state.
“Nullification is something that’s simply not going to be allowed,” he said. “It’d be a waste of our time and beneath the dignity of this state to even suggest such legislation.”
News 2 reached out to Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), the Senate sponsor, to see if she had a comment for this story. As of the time of this article’s publishing, she had not responded.