Here's what you need to know about democracy this week:
1. Do states have to listen to the federal government?
Republican-led legislatures across the country are passing laws declaring that federal gun control regulations are invalid, and they aren’t going to allow local law enforcement to enforce them. But can states just ignore the federal government?
2. What does America owe Afghan interpreters?
American forces continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan, slated for completion by September 11th of this year. But the Taliban is on the offensive, and Afghan interpreters who helped in the U.S. war effort are being left behind. What does America owe to the Afghan citizens who helped U.S. troops?
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Do states have to listen to the federal government?
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signs the Second Amendment Preservation Act in the gun shop Frontier Justice on Sat., June 12.
Credit: Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Sitting inside the gun shop Frontier Justice on June 12th, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act. That law “declares that all federal acts…that infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment…must be invalid in this state.” In addition to invalidating all federal gun control regulations within Missouri, all state and local officers are also prohibited from assisting federal agents in their enforcement of these laws.
With this legislation, Missouri joins eight other states who have passed laws either rebuking federal firearm regulations or ordering state and local law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with federal agents. While little has changed in gun regulation at a national level, these states are preempting any action from the Biden administration or the Democratic Congress.
In this latest push against federal regulation, red states are drawing upon the Left’s playbook on issues like marijuana legalization and sanctuary cities.
Can states really ignore federal law?
The question of whether a state can ignore or “nullify” federal legislation is almost as old as the republic, with major disputes dating back to the late 1700s. The issue arose periodically over the course of a century, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled each time against a state’s right to nullify laws. So even though the anti-gun-control legislation that several state legislatures have passed calls federal regulations “invalid,” states have no actual authority to nullify them.
Still, states aren’t entirely powerless to resist federal law. While a state cannot simply nullify a federal law, it can refuse to enforce it. This principle of “anti-commandeering” dates back to the 1842 Supreme Court decision Prigg v. Pennsylvania, in which the justices ruled that local and state law enforcement agencies could not be compelled to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.
Though not used continuously throughout American history, the practice was renewed in 1987 when Oregon banned local officials from enforcing federal immigration laws, creating the first “sanctuary state.” In the years since, an increasing number of Democratic-leaning communities have declined to enforce federal laws regarding immigration and recreational marijuana. Republican legislatures have, in turn, disregarded gun laws, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing a bill just last week which “makes Texas a Second Amendment Sanctuary State.” And with just 1,714 ATF special agents operating across the country, federal gun regulations cannot possibly be enforced without local support.
What does this mean for American democracy?
Federalism has a mixed record in America, at once easing differences between communities by allowing them to pursue local policies and exacerbating tensions by stymying national solutions to national issues. Marijuana legalization fits into the former category, with states like Alabama and California able to pursue policies they each find suitable. Immigration and gun control, however, are inherently national in scope and thus ill-suited for local regulation alone.
When state and local governments revert to ignoring national legislation rather than seeking compromise, policy differences become extreme. Sanctuary cities don’t just try to protect Dreamers from needless deportation; they refuse to cooperate with I.C.E altogether. Meanwhile, Second Amendment sanctuaries don’t just resist specific federal gun control measures; they throw them all out and threaten any law enforcement agency that upholds them.
The South would never have compromised on slavery in the lead up to the Civil War, but it’s still telling that the declarations of secession from Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas explicitly refer to northern states’ nonenforcement or nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act as evidence of a defunct federal government. Principles of nullification and non-enforcement don’t uphold federalism, they degrade it. The latest attempts to undermine the federal government only further divide the country and soil any hope of compromise.
What does America owe Afghan interpreters?
Former interpreters for the U.S. and NATO demonstrate in downtown Kabul on April 30, as Washington begins its troop withdrawal.
Credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images, Roll Call
On June 20th, the White House announced that President Biden would be meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani this Friday. Afghanistan is in the midst of escalating fighting as the American withdrawal continues and hard-won territories fall to the Taliban. The meeting between the two leaders is a welcome opportunity for the United States to commit to greater assistance for the Afghan government, but it's unlikely to address our immediate, outstanding obligation: protecting the thousands of Afghans who have put themselves in terrible danger to support our troops.
For two decades, tens of thousands of Afghans served alongside American troops as interpreters. In doing so, they put themselves and their families at risk of retaliation. As the Taliban gains ground against Afghan forces, some 18,000 interpreters are still waiting on their American visas. With American troops set to leave entirely by September 11th, any delay could prove fatal.
These individuals qualify to immigrate to the U.S. on Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for their service. Despite Congress mandating in 2008 that the entire process take no longer than nine months, the State Department has acknowledged that it is more likely to take a minimum of 1.5 years. President Biden recently signed an executive order in part reiterating America’s commitment to supporting Iraqi and Afghan interpreters via the SIV program. But with U.S. forces set to withdraw completely in just three months’ time, this gesture may be too little, too late. At this point, the only acceptable option may be to help evacuate the interpreters, possibly to a third-party country or to the U.S. on a temporary visa, while their cases are processed.
What would failing to evacuate the interpreters mean?
Failure to take action could cause hundreds, possibly thousands of former interpreters to be killed. The resettlement advocacy group No One Left Behind records that more than 300 Afghan interpreters have been murdered since 2014 as they waited for their applications to be approved. Afghan women who worked with U.S. forces are especially at risk, as the Taliban considers them guilty of the dual crime of aiding America and working in a role unacceptable for women.
Abdicating responsibility in this case would be a colossal moral failure and counteract our national interest. The Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategy Guidance calls for greater local cooperation in military efforts, avowing that “when force is required, we will employ it alongside…local partners wherever possible to bolster effectiveness and legitimacy.” As Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers put it, “what kind of message does that send next time that we go somewhere and ask people to help us if they realize the people who helped us last time, we turned our backs on them and didn’t help them?” America has and will continue to rely on the support of local allies in our military efforts––we cannot take that invaluable relationship for granted.
With our reluctance to support those who support us, America risks further degrading its claim to being a global force for good. Along with Hollywood and technological innovation, American soft power has always relied on a relatively simple concept: benevolence. The Marshall Plan, Green Revolution, PEPFAR, and a world-leading refugee resettlement program all served others before our own interests. American leadership empowered liberal democracy around the world as our partners opened up to trade, expanded individual freedoms, and accepted a rules-based world order as mutually beneficial. A morality-first foreign policy is an America-first foreign policy, and to turn our backs on this humanitarian obligation is, in the words of Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, “playing politics with our national security and with the lives of American heroes.”
These individuals risked everything to support our troops and rebuild their country. But while Americans get to come home, a resurgent Taliban threatens our partners' lives. Our responsibility is clear and the solution is simple: evacuate the Afghan interpreters.