by Tom Mullen
The near-showdown in Texas did not break any new ground in the nullification debate. The Texas House of Representatives passed a law that made the touching of genitals or breasts by TSA personnel illegal and punishable by fines and imprisonment. The federal government responded by citing the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, together with a threat to cancel all air travel to and from Texas if the law were passed by the Senate and signed by the governor. The Texas Senate backed down. The crisis was averted – for the moment.
For most, attention was probably focused on the threat to close down air travel. Indeed, this would have been a huge crisis, with economic ramifications far beyond Texas. However, the more important issue here is the constitutional one. The federal government states as if it were fact that under the Supremacy Clause “Texas has no authority to regulate federal agents and employees in the performance of their federal duties or to pass a statute that conflicts with federal law.” Does the Supremacy Clause really say this? Let’s take a look. It says,
“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.”
For those not familiar with the Constitution, that’s it. There are no further provisions explaining what is meant. There is no list of definitions of the various words, as one might expect to find in a contract today. Whatever “supremacy” the federal government claims to have must be found in this one sentence.
Perhaps a fast read might lead one to believe that the last section of this clause settles the question definitively. It says that the judges in every state shall be bound be federal laws “any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” End of debate, right? The Texas law conflicts with the federal law, so the federal law trumps it. This is what the federal government would like you to accept - without question.
There is only one problem for the Feds. Their interpretation of the “Supremacy Clause” is based completely on the last section of this one-sentence provision and entirely ignores the first. One would think that if they were going to cite this clause, then reading the entire sentence would be a reasonable expectation.
So what exactly is “the Supreme Law of the Land?” Any law passed by the federal government? That’s not what the Supremacy Clause says. It says that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof” shall be the supreme law of the land.Details