South Carolina has, again, caught the nullification bug. As reported by The State, Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow the state attorney general to take a business to court if he has “reasonable cause to believe” that implementing the law would harm people.
One of the co-sponsors, state Sen. Larry Martin, insists that there’s nothing in the bill that would prevent a business from participating in a federal health-care exchange (Gov. Nikki Haley has already refused to build an exchange for her state). But that’s only technically true; under the proposal, there is nothing to stop the state attorney general from deciding that a participating business is harming her employees, and thus can no longer continue implementation.
Obviously, there will be no war if this bill passes—no one plans to fire on Fort Sumter, again. The most likely outcomes involve a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina—filed by businesses, like hospitals and health insurers, who want implementation—or nothing, as the state moves forward and its citizens are kept from access to decent, affordable health insurance. Congrats, South Carolina Republicans! You’ve scored an ideological win at the cost of immiseration of your fellow residents.
This push to essentially nullify the Affordable Care Act within the state’s borders is another indication of how far the modern Republican Party has fallen from the ideas that animated its creation. The GOP of Abraham Lincoln wasn’t just an anti-slavery party—or at least, one opposed to the expansion of slavery—it was a unionist party, one dedicated to the idea that there was a single United States, whose government could not be shattered by individual states.
This idea is in wide currency now, but it wasn’t in the middle of the 19th century. Then, an influential wing of Southern conservatives—led by the fiery John C. Calhoun of South Carolina—pushed the view that the federal government wassubordinate to the states, who could nullify the Union at any time. This was an ideology borne of history—the exact nature of the constitutional pact signed in 1783 was unclear—and of economics. Calhoun and his allies, intellectual and political, were overwhelmingly slave owners, deeply invested in the system of bondage and white supremacy that supported their society.
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