A Scottsdale businessman has already spent $1.2 million and even mortgaged his house to put a measure on the ballot that he says would allow Arizona to nullify any federal law it deems unconstitutional.
And he’s vowed to spend whatever it takes on the campaign to make sure it passes in November.
Jack Biltis, the president of TAG Employer Services, submitted more than 320,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday afternoon for the Checks and Balances in Government initiative. The proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution states that Arizona can reject a federal action, either through a public vote or through the legislative process.
“It’s a cause that needs to be pursued, and I’m fortunately somebody who can initiate it has some resources to get it to this point,” Biltis said.
The initiative needs 259,213 signatures to get on the ballot. Despite the campaign’s relatively late start – Biltis filed his proposed initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office on March 30 – he said he’s confident his effort collected enough valid signatures before today’s deadline.
But even if the Checks and Balances in Government initiative passes in November, Biltis’ efforts and hard-earned cash will likely be wasted, said Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Bender said the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that federal law is the supreme law of the land and takes precedent over state laws, prohibits states from nullifying federal actions. The initiative would absolutely be found unconstitutional in court, Bender said, though the state would likely have to attempt to reject a federal law before it could be challenged.
“The Supremacy Clause is pretty explicit. If it’s a valid federal law – that is, if it complies with the federal Constitution – then it applies in every state, and states … have no power to exempt themselves,” Bender said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the state Constitution, statute, a state initiative –federal law is supreme.”
Biltis disagrees, saying there’s plenty of precedent for states nullifying federal laws. He pointed to northern states that passed laws rejecting a pre-Civil War law requiring free states to return runaway slaves in their territory. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws, he said, but states like Wisconsin continued to defy the Fugitive Slave Act.
Under America’s federalist system, the states and the federal government are supposed to act as checks and balances against each other, Biltis said. A state should not be forced to comply with an unconstitutional law, he said, even if it is declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, as the Affordable Care Act was last week.
“The Supremacy Clause deems that the United States Constitution and the federal laws in pursuance thereof are the supreme law of the land. I agree with that 100 percent,” Biltis said. “But any federal laws that violate the U.S. Constitution, by definition, aren’t the law of the land. I think the Supremacy Clause, in fact, backs what we’re trying to do and makes that special distinction.
“I don’t believe that Arizona or any other state has a right to give up its sovereignty and give up the rights of its citizens because a Supreme Court ruling determines that they should.”
Biltis, 40, says he was prompted to start the initiative by the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare by its opponents, as well as a host of other federal laws he believes are unconstitutional overreaches, including the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, the National Defense Authorization Act and laws that regulate the kinds of light bulbs that can be sold in the U.S.
On a more personal level, Biltis says he sees excessive government regulation and interference all the time in his business, which does back-office work for companies such as payroll, workers compensation, human resources and health insurance.
For example, he recounted the story of a client company that he says was about to get unfairly slammed with a discrimination complaint by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The feds only backed off because the EEOC doesn’t have jurisdiction over companies with fewer than 15 employees, Biltis said.
“Our client turned to us and said, ‘We will never grow beyond 14 employees again,’” he said. “It’s scary that companies just can’t run their business and service their clients and do what they think is right because they’re at the point where they’re scared of the government.”
A native Canadian, Biltis says he’s all too familiar with the types of heavy-handed government interference that he said is becoming pervasive in the United States.
“We see a lot of shadows of the same storm happening with socialized medicine, with a lot of the different financial reform laws, a lot of the different areas where the federal government is forever increasing its reach into people’s lives. I could either complain about it, or I could try to do something about it,” he said.
Biltis is a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved to the country in 1988. He said his wife, Leigh, will become a U.S. citizen on Friday.
“I love symbolism, and this is a great week. Fourth of July yesterday, America’s independence. Checks and balances to really help create a proper balance between the state and federal governments today. And tomorrow my wife gets her citizenship. I’m getting a kick out of this week,” he said.