The Slatest

Trump’s Acting Attorney General of the Country Suggested He “Believes” in States’ Right to Nullify Federal Laws

Matthew Whitaker.
Then–chief of staff to the U.S. attorney general Matthew Whitaker attends a roundtable discussion at the Justice Department in Washington on Aug. 29. Reuters/Allison Shelley/File Photo

The current acting attorney general of the United States, the highest law enforcement officer in the entire country, believes that states have the constitutional right to disobey federal laws when they deem appropriate. That’s coming from President Trump’s pick to oversee the Justice Department, very much a federal body and ultimate enforcer of federal laws, during his failed 2014 Senate run in Iowa. CNN unearthed Whitaker’s comments on state “nullification,” as serious questions are being raised about the legality of Whitaker’s temporary appointment that has always had the appearance of Trump trying to install an ally to end Robert Mueller’s investigation in his campaign’s links to Russia. Whitaker has personal ties to the Trump administration—in particular the parts of Trump world that are part of the Mueller investigation—and has been publicly critical of the Mueller investigation before taking over at the DOJ.

The question appears to be in relation to Obamacare, which Republicans were (still!) furiously running against in 2014.

“As a principle, it has been turned down by the courts, and our federal government has not recognized it,” Whitaker said during a September 2013 campaign speech at a candidate event hosted by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. “Now, we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa. And so the question is: Do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa, or some other state, to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?”

“The federal government’s done a very good job about tying goodies to our compliance with federal programs, whether it’s the Department of Education, whether it’s Obamacare with its generous Medicare and Medicaid dollars and the like,” he continued. “But do I believe in nullification? I think our founding fathers believed in nullification. There’s no doubt about that. And so that principle survives. I don’t think we as a people that like our federal goodies have the political courage to nullify Obamacare.”