POLITICS
07/29/2014 04:16 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2014

Joni Ernst Has A History Of Advocating Nullification Of Federal Laws

WASHINGTON -- On Monday, The Daily Beast reported that Republican Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst once appeared to speak favorably of the concept of nullification.

"Bottom line is, as a U.S. senator, why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? I mean, that's bottom line, is our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws," Ernst said at a forum hosted last year by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition.

The idea of nullification, which was popularized by pro-slavery advocates in the years leading up to the Civil War, holds that states may "nullify," or void, federal laws they disagree with. Such a move is impossible under the Constitution.

But Ernst's legislative record and prior statements on the matter suggest that she wasn't simply musing about an outdated legal theory. Rather, she appears to have been a proponent of nullification for years.

As the Beast reported, the first-term state senator co-sponsored a January 2011 resolution claiming Iowa's sovereignty over certain mandates imposed by the federal government that "are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment."

The 10th Amendment holds that powers not specifically accorded to the federal government in the Constitution are instead granted to the states. However, the federal government has the power to enact mandates, like those stipulated in the Clean Air Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal laws and the U.S. Constitution itself take precedence over state laws.

In March 2011, Ernst co-sponsored another resolution, flagged to HuffPost by a Democratic source, that urged the "nullification" of Environmental Protection Agency rules "relating to national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for reciprocating internal combustion engines."

Ernst followed up in February 2013 by co-sponsoring a joint resolution that expressed "the Iowa General Assembly's refusal to recognize or support any statutes, presidential directives, or other regulations and proclamations which conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and which are expressly preempted by the rulings of the United States Supreme Court."

Conservatives frequently cite the 10th Amendment when speaking out against federal government policies they disagree with, such as those regulating firearms. As Ernst put it in a July 2013 radio interview, "I believe the states -- anything that's not spelled out in our Constitution is reserved for the states' rights. So I do believe strongly in that, and having served as a state senator [I] believe that yes, states have those rights."

Ernst is competing against Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) for the seat currently held by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is retiring this year. The latest polling shows Ernst picking up momentum, leading Braley at 45.1 percent to 44.4 percent in the HuffPost Pollster average.

Listen to Ernst's radio interview above.

Sam Stein contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the headline stated that Ernst has a history of advocating the nullification of state laws. She has a history of advocating the nullification of federal laws.

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