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Pennsylvania Resolution Affirms Principles of Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798

HARRISBURG, Pa. (April 3, 2016) – A resolution protesting and demanding an end to federal overreach based on the the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 was introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate last month.

Sen. Michael Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Tannersville) introduced Senate Resolution 293 (SR293) on March 7. The resolutions claims sovereignty for the citizens of Pennsylvania under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and demands that the federal government end unconstitutional actions.

RESOLVED, That this resolution serve as Notice and Demand to the Federal Government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers; and be it further

RESOLVED, That all compulsory Federal legislation which directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal penalties or sanctions or requires states to pass legislation or lose Federal funding be prohibited or repealed.

SR293 builds its case on the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively, these resolutions were a response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions not only laid out the case for unconstitutionality of these laws, they also asserted that it was the right and duty of the states to resist such unconstitutional actions. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 formally lay out the principles of state nullification and interposition.

SR293 stops short of advocating state action to stop federal overreach. Instead, the Senate resolution characterizes the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions as protests against unconstitutional federal action.

WHEREAS, The Kentucky Resolution was introduced in part to ensure a “solemn protest” against “alarming measures of the general government”; and

WHEREAS, The Virginia Resolution was introduced in part as a protest “against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution” where Federal officials were exercising: a power no where delegated to the federal government…

SR293 represents a very small first step against federal overreach. It correctly acknowledges the sovereignty of Pennsylvania and the limits of the federal government. Passage would create a philosophical framework for further action in Pennsylvania. If the federal government fails to heed the state’s demands to cease and desist in its unconstitutional actions – and it surely will – Pennsylvania could move ahead and actually exercise the sovereignty affirmed in the resolutions and state steps to resist federal power. The resolution would lay the foundation to refuse cooperation with federal actions it describes and nullify them in practice.

While not legally binding, resolutions like SR293 serve as an important educational tool, and are often a prelude to more substantive action. In the future. Resolutions take an effective first step in states like Pennsylvania where legislators tend to resit the idea of confronting federal overreach. The strategy would be to pass SR293, and then follow up by taking more direct action as Madison called for in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798.

“That in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them. [Emphasis added]

This would involve following Madison’s blueprint in Federalist #46 – a refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union in order to create impediments and obstructions that stop federal overreach.

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SR293 was referred to the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full Senate for a vote.