CONCORD, N.H. – For small-government die-hards, the $787 billionrecently passed by Congress isn’t a life saver. It’s the last straw.
Lawmakers across the country are sponsoring resolutions — most of them only symbolic — asserting state sovereignty, in effect the right to ignore any federal law or policies they deem unconstitutional, including the stimulus bill, the No Child Left Behind Act and any new assault rifle ban.
In New Hampshire, the House is scheduled to vote on Republican state Rep. Daniel Itse’s resolution Wednesday. Supporters are planning a rally at the Statehouse before the vote.
“I think that the specter of some assaults on our liberty have become so real and immediate that there is a reaction,” Itse said.
Lawmakers in at least 15 states are sponsoring similar resolutions. They say they’re fighting back against decades of federal overreach, culminating in the.
“This has been a progression from (the New Deal) days to today, with the only break being Ronald Reagan,” South Carolina state Rep. Michael Pitts said by e-mail. Pitts, a Republican, has a resolution pending in the South Carolina House. “The stimulus bill is simply propellant for the resistance.”
In January, 22 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center disapproved of the stimulus. That number rose to 34 percent in February. The survey — which polled about 1,300 respondents — has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Two lawmakers say they have received hundreds of calls from constituents supporting their resolutions., a Republican, said about 250 people have called or e-mailed to say thank you, whereas most of his bills draw fewer than 10 messages.
Missouri Republican state Rep. Cynthia Davis, whose resolution is pending in the House, said she has received at least 200 supportive messages from constituents and residents in other states.
“I’m getting letters from all over the country,” Davis said. “It’s really a beautiful thing, watching the spirit of the American Revolution come back.”
Resolution sponsors cite the 10th Amendment, which says the federal government has no authority beyond the powers granted to it under the Constitution.
Several governors — mainly Republican — have threatened to reject some of the stimulus money, claiming it would raise taxes in their states. Some analysts see the revolt as partisan posturing.
But Opsommer, who thinks the stimulus has spurred many of the resolutions, said in an e-mail that the states’ rights movement transcends party politics.
“Some Democrats feel it is an attack on Obama until I explain I also introduced it last year,” said Opsommer, whose resolution is pending in the Michigan House. “This is about the rights of the states and the people, not anything to do with Republicans or Democrats.”
A Democrat in Kentucky, state Rep. John Will Stacy, is the prime sponsor of a sovereignty resolution in that state. He did not immediately return calls.
The Oklahoma House recently passed a resolution from Republican state Sen. Randy Brogdon. Most of the resolutions are nonbinding, but Brogdon’s would have the force of law if it passed the Senate.
Oklahoma’s Democratic governor and attorney general would likely refuse to enforce the resolution, Brogdon acknowledges.
Karl Kurtz, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, couldn’t say how many sovereignty resolutions Congress has received in prior years, but he suspects the current craze is no accident.
“In the case of the sovereignty resolutions it appears to be an organized campaign,” Kurtz said, adding that states’ rights activists may have influenced the sponsors.
New Hampshire’s Itse has ties to the Free State Project, which urges small government activists to move to New Hampshire. Many project members also belong to the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, a states’ rights group listing Itse as its political director.
“Anybody who’s willing to stand up and make a statement like that is a special friend,” said project spokesman Calvin Pratt. “I just wish we had thought of it first.”
Some in New Hampshire wish no one had thought of it. Richard Hesse, professor emeritus of constitutional law at the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, said Itse’s resolution could strip authority from state leaders, as well as from Congress and the president.
“When you think about this claim that if a state believes a federal law is unconstitutional it can just ignore it, then I presume if a county believed a state law was unconstitutional it could just ignore it,” Hesse said. “Really what’s implicit in this is an unwillingness to recognize a lawful authority.”