Home Editorials Senator Coghill's Substitute for Nullification: Rebuking Presumptive Federal Laws with Style.

Senator Coghill's Substitute for Nullification: Rebuking Presumptive Federal Laws with Style.


Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault definitely has his own style and swagger.
He exudes confidence from every pore. He’s dismissive of reporters’ questions and louder than life in his legislation. And as the presiding officer in the state house, and member of a Republican majority that can essentially pass whatever it wants, why not?
Chenault, style-wise, is the political equivalent of Lady Gaga. He is honey badger incarnate.
Take a look at his nullification law, HB69. There are many ways to object to federal mandates (even, in this case, ones that don’t exist yet) – resolutions being the prime example.
Chenault chose the biggest, loudest, and dumbest approach: codifying a law which forces state law enforcement officers to arrest FBI agents seeking to enforce future federal gun restrictions.
The actual proposal is a joke. The courts would laugh HB69 out of the law books before making it through the sponsor statement. But the Speaker reckoned they should just pass it and see what happens.
The floor vote in the House demonstrated the efficacy of his bravado. Chenault not only got every Republican to vote in the affirmative (complete with camouflage scarf accoutrements showing brazen support for sedition), but he also picked up six weak-kneed Democrats. Three more came down with the sniffles.
Style and swagger.
But Alaskans are keenly aware that style doesn’t always mean “good” style. We’ve all been stuck on the plane sitting next to the guy who thinks that showering is a poor substitute for natural cologne. (“It’s the pheromones.”) We’ve all grumbled as the guy with the eight-foot Stetson hat plops down in front of us at the movie theater. Style comes in two forms: those who dress to impress, and those who dress exclusively for their own delight and without a single thought to anyone else on the planet.
How would you categorize Mike Chenault?
We’ve also all had that friend who, at one point or another, we realize we can’t take anywhere. He’s arrogant and acts erratically, without any thought to the consequences of his behavior.
In a small town in a small state that loves its gossip, that kind of friend spells bad news. And when we can’t sever all ties, we figure out ways to mitigate the damage – especially damage they cause us. And we have to do so without them figuring out what we’re doing, because those personalities generally don’t respond well to policing.
HB69 has moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be heard for the first time today at 1:30pm.
Meanwhile, a new senate bill has surfaced. Senator John Coghill’s SB 75.
It kind of sounds familiar:
“An Act prohibiting the use of assets or resources of state or municipal agencies to implement or aid in the implementation of the requirements of certain federal laws….”
SB75, like HB69, objects to federal firearm restrictions that have yet to become law. But it does so in a very different way. It specifies that a “state agency may not use or authorize the use of a state asset to implement or aid in the implementation of a requirement of an order of the President of the United States,” or any federal law that Congress passes that would “infringe on a person’s right… to keep and bear arms….” It goes on to specify that the state also cannot use any resources to assist in denying “a person a right to due process” under both the United States and Alaska State Constitution.
Coghill’s legislative prescription for negating future federal gun restrictions is to bar state law enforcement agencies, like the state troopers, from assisting the feds – tasked with enforcing them – in any way. (He’s been through this before, with the same success, by way of the same strategy.)
In other words, the state would tell FBI agents to go right ahead enforcing a new law restricting firearms. But state officers can’t help. Not with arrests, detainment facilities, technology – don’t even ask to borrow our cell phone.
The North Pole Republican’s proposal manages to render presumptive future federal laws largely unenforceable without nullifying anything.
Style points.
According to Radio Kenai KSRM, “Speaker Chenault said he’s only had a quick look at Senate Bill 75, but it appears similar to his House Bill 69.”
Which it totally is, so long as the sole metric the Speaker hinges his opinion on is “guns good.” Otherwise, the two prescriptions are light-years apart. An ego-driven temper tantrum of an illegal bill compared to Coghill’s sleek, backhanded approach to limit the state’s power to handicap that of the federal government.
But, again, that troublesome friend can never realize when he’s being policed. Chenault seems content to think he’s inspired other colleagues in the legislature to follow in his footsteps. He can’t get that his colleague is trying to cover up his footprints in what could end up a crime scene.
Abandoning footprints for legs, SB75 still has trouble standing up on both of them. The bill seems like a fairly awful idea.
The Senate bill sets up mechanisms to respond to laws that haven’t been enacted yet. The ambiguity of the law prevents state and federal coordination, regardless of whether or not the law makes sense – and despite how dysfunctional the beltway currently is, we shouldn’t universally rule federal remedies out based strictly on a single assumption.
SB75 is extreme, and that should not go unnoticed just because it’s less extreme than a nullification law. Coghill’s proposal is more of a bill of attainder, specifically rebuking acts of Congress and the President – ironic, given that we’re a star on the flag of the Union we’re trying to remove teeth from.
This shouldn’t be heralded as a fix. But it’s legal, and it sets up a very interesting narrative in Juneau. How will Chenault respond to his colleague’s apparent substitute for his controversial – and blatantly illegal – legislation? Does Senator John Coghill have the political will and capital to put the Speaker in the corner?
And what happens when 31 state representatives – coordinated scarfs and all – who were gullible enough to vote for the Speaker’s nullification bill, demand to know why the guy with the giant hat in the movie theater that you can’t take anywhere didn’t simply embrace legislation like Coghill’s. Why strong-arm them into breaking their oaths of office; why make them violate the state and national constitutions; why go full nullification?
That must feel awkward.
Senator Coghill’s version of style isn’t about being the loudest guy in the room. It’s not about ego. it’s about ideology. He’s there to make things law, and to make them as sticky as possible. With SB75, he has the votes, and he has flawed – but legal – legislation. Now we watch and see if he can get his cowboy colleague to sit down and hush up.


  1. Arrogance of the absolutist with absolute authority. The minority could have moved to festoon this ‘Tenther’ contrivance with any number of worthy anti-federal enforcement nuggets: no wire taps. No torture on Alaskan Soil, no federal spy drones in Alaska air space, no enforcement of federal marijuana laws, no enforcement of federal tax collection, etc. put the assholes on record supporting these things. Answer the power of the Absolute with the mischief of the powerless!

    • Mr Lauesen: Who’s the REAL absolutist here: I believe it’s your totalitarian fascist dictator in charge in the white house Mr. Obummer I believe his name is. Talk about a Nazi Hitler in charge who has no regard for the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States. Yes, there should be NO wire taps, NO NDAA, NO wiretaps, NO Torture, NO Federal Drones anywhere, not just on Alaskan soil etc etc. So who’s the REAL Asshole here? And I’m by no means even REMOTELY a Republican OR a Democrat. Go figure….