This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah Republican Convention delegates will consider a resolution Saturday that, according to its author, essentially seeks a revolt against "overzealous, overreaching" federal rule.
It could help lead to county clerks refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, rejecting federal education guidelines and to the state seizing federal lands, said its author, Lowell Nelson, former vice chairman of the state Republican Party and a current member of its central committee.
"We need to get back to those days that the states considered themselves sovereign," he said. "States are sovereign and superior to the federal government that they themselves created."
Nelson said the U.S. Constitution never gave the federal government authority over such topics as marriage, education and health leaving those matters to the states.
He also contends the federal government was entitled only to lands that states gave it.
Over time, he said, the federal government took control of such things; he added that states need to fight back now by "nullifying" anything beyond what the Constitution originally allowed.
The resolution, which Nelson said he expects will easily win approval among the roughly 4,000 convention delegates, says the party "encourages public officials at all levels of government to nullify any federal order, act, opinion, or regulation that lies outside the bounds of lawful authority of the federal government."
By nullification, Nelson said, he is not just talking about suing the federal government which the Legislature has proposed in order to take control of millions of acres of public lands. "Going to sue the federal government in a federal court is ludicrous.
"Instead, the state should simply take control of the land in the case of public lands. And we should refuse to implement the edicts of the Department of Education if we disagree with them. And we should simply refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if we in fact want to uphold the Utah Constitution."
Nelson pointed to the historical example of Wisconsin nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act within its borders before the Civil War, which had forced the return of runaway slaves.
The U.S. Supreme Court overruled Wisconsin's action in 1859.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, also a former vice chairman of the state GOP, has crossed swords previously with Nelson. He once pushed a resolution seeking to block Nelson, when he was the party vice chairman, from speaking for the party after he advocated ending public education, Medicaid and Social Security.
Weiler doesn't support the new resolution and said it does little more than try to send a message about federal overreach. "A state that tries to nullify something unless you start a civil war it's merely a symbolic act," Weiler, an attorney, said.
"Under our supremacy clause, we understand that states can't overrule the federal government, and when the Supreme Court makes a decision, that they are the final arbitrator," he said.
"Sometimes we may disagree with what they do, but in order to have a civilized society, you have to have a final arbitrator." He said if every state decides for itself what the Constitution means, it could bring chaos.
"Part of the rule of law is that you go as far as you can," Weiler said, "then you find some way to live with the outcome."
Nelson's resolution is scheduled for consideration at the end of Saturday's convention, after a long day of speeches and voting on nominees for a range of public offices, from governor to legislators.
Nelson acknowledged it is aimed mostly at helping "educate more people on the proper role of the federal government and the impact that [state] governments can have, and should have, in checking the overzealous overreach of the federal government."
He added, "Everyone complains about Obamacare. Everyone complains about education … yet they apathetically ignore the opportunity to take control."
Nelson also acknowledged that his resolution "doesn't really have any teeth in it" and is just a starting point for his education efforts. "I expect it to pass easily because it doesn't really have any teeth."