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Published January 26 2013

Forum editorial: As bills go, this one is vacuous

A gaggle of “constitutional scholars” in the North Dakota Legislature aims to pass gun-related laws that trump federal law. Well, they certainly can pass a law. But their effort is akin to outlawing sub-zero temperatures in January.

A House bill would forbid state law enforcement personnel from assisting federal officials in enforcement and prosecution of new federal gun laws. Introduced by Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, and co-sponsored by several other Republican lawmakers, including Fargo’s Rep. Bette Grande, the legislation is more heat than light. It’s one of those all-too-common stunts designed specifically to reinforce the anti-Washington sentiment that animates too many state legislators. It’s fashionable in their political circles, but it is, nevertheless, hypocritical and ultimately unproductive.

Streyle says his bill is not anti-law enforcement, but it is. Local and state officers, many of whom work closely with federal officials to stem crime in the state, say privately and publicly that the proposal could hamstring those efforts. It’s safe to assume the men and women on the front lines of public safety in North Dakota

have a better handle on the situation than do Streyle and his

co-sponsors.

The constitutional question is pivotal. Apparently sponsors of the silly bill are not aware of a provision in the U.S. Constitution, the “Supremacy Clause” of Article VI, paragraph 2, which establishes that federal law generally takes precedence over state law and state constitutions. The doctrine has been tested many times, and the federal position has always prevailed. The Supremacy Clause ties into the theory of nullification, whereby a state says it has the right to nullify, or invalidate, a federal law the state concludes is unconstitutional. Again, nullification has been rejected repeatedly by federal courts.

The House bill is a waste of the Legislature’s time. Most lawmakers know it. North Dakota police officials, legal experts and judges know the law is a tilt at a windmill. It’s foolish in the extreme not only because it would not stand constitutional scrutiny but also because it insults joint local, state and federal law enforcement efforts that have been so successful over the years – and will be more important as the state’s population grows and crime infests the Oil Patch.

Even the Legislature’s pre-eminent constitutional scholars, such as they are, should be able to grasp that new reality.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.