State Supremacy vs the Supremacy Clause

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by Brian Greene, Utah State Representative

In Utah, I have introduced a bill for the 2013 Legislative session entitled the “State Supremacy Firearms Act.” It was released today as House Bill 114 (HB114).  The bill is intended to serve as a declaration of state supremacy over the regulation of firearm activities occurring exclusively within the boundaries of Utah, and to put the Federal Government on notice that enforcement of any conflicting federal laws will not be allowed in Utah. Although the response to my bill has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been some critics. The most common argument I have encountered is based upon a misguided reliance on Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution—known as the “Supremacy Clause.” Blanket statements such as “federal law always trumps state law,” and “you’re wasting your time because the law is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause,” are typical negative reactions to my bill.

Many who favor more gun control and who support a dominant federal government actually believe that if Congress passes a law, or if the President makes an executive order, it is automatically the supreme law of the land. They love to point to the part of the Supremacy Clause that mandates that states must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either the state constitution or state law. Whether out of ignorance or convenience, they fail to look at the Supremacy Clause in its proper context—that which establishes the U.S. Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and U.S. Treaties as “the supreme law of the land.”

Hence, the Supremacy Clause only applies if an act of the Federal Government is in pursuit of its constitutionally authorized powers. In other words, Federal laws are valid and are supreme, only to the extent that those laws were adopted in pursuance of—that is, consistent with—the Constitution.

To read the Supremacy Clause as big government proponents would have you—that ALL FEDERAL LAWS ARE SUPREME—would render the remainder of the Constitution meaningless. Why would there be a need for anything other than a Supremacy Clause?  Why would the Constitution’s Framers have deliberated throughout the summer of 1787 over the other 4,500 words in the Constitution if their intent was to make the Federal Government supreme in all areas it unilaterally decided to act?


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