Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Will history repeat?

Jim Keet is our favorite Republican candidate for governor since Winthrop Rockefeller, but it took him less than two weeks to earn our disappointment.

Keet badgered Gov. Beebe to take a stand on the comprehensive health insurance bill before Congress, which Keet opposes.

That is fair enough. The bill would bring enormous benefits to the people of Arkansas — more perhaps than any state — but it also involves the state government in some long-term commitments, so the governor ought to take a stand. We hope it would be different from Keet’s but it is an obligation of leadership to guide us even on federal matters affecting state policy.

But the young businessman — he’s younger than we are — went further and announced that if he is elected he would press the legislature to pass a law preventing the federal health law’s application to the people of Arkansas. It’s called either interposition or nullification — take your pick — and the U. S. Supreme Court ruled exactly 207 years ago that the states could not do that. The state legislature would be ruling that a federal law was unconstitutional in its application to Arkansas, and the Supreme Court said states had no such authority.

But you do not have to trust the Supreme Court. Article VI of the U. S. Constitution, the supremacy clause, is unambiguous on the point: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Sure, Virginia has already passed a nullification act in anticipation of Congress enacting mandatory health insurance. But Virginia did the same thing over slavery and then again after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in 1954. Does anyone remember how those turned out? Arkansas passed an interposition law, too, in 1956, but everyone knew it was a dead letter. Arkansas voters got it off the books 34 years later.

Adopting the national Republican Party’s stance, Keet says the federal government has no right to tell businesses and individuals to acquire health insurance. It just isn’t right, he said.

Then Gov. Keet, a man of consistent principle, next year will also push the legislature when it nullifies the federally required premiums on Arkansas’ uninsured people and their employers to also stop the collection of premium taxes for all the other forms of mandatory insurance — unemployment, old age, disability, survivors and Medicare —and get Arkansas people out of all those unconstitutional programs forthwith!

Those are the precedents for the health legislation. The only difference of consequence is that in all those programs people buy the insurance from the U. S. government. Under Obamacare, as critics call it, the private marketplace would provide it.

Jim Keet? He has always seemed like a thoughtful, practical and law-abiding man. The nullification talk is a crowd pleaser. He’s not an Orval Faubus or a Jim Johnson. We don’t think he would ever do it.

Ernie Dumas