Two issues have arisen recently in which liberals have cited the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI) in order to attempt to justify their positions. In both cases, in regard to the federal mandate to purchase health insurance, which the liberals support, and state border control laws, which they oppose, they are misinterpreting the Supremacy Clause to the detriment of the rights of the States – the principle of limited government (federalism) reflected in the Constitution by its Framers.
The Supremacy Clause deems the Constitution and federal laws and treaties “the supreme Law of the Land.” But the federal law or treaty must be constitutional in the first place. The federal government of the United States has no power to mandate individuals to purchase health insurance. It only has the power to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3), not intrastate commerce, which is the domain of the States. Because the federal mandate to purchase health insurance is thus unconstitutional, it cannot be the supreme law of the land.
Unlike intrastate commerce, border control is a federal responsibility, as Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 of the U.S. the Constitution gives the federal government responsibility for naturalization (immigration). However, border control is a broader issue than immigration. Temporary visitors, such as migrant workers, for example, are not immigrants. Thus, border control is also a state issue. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the states from controlling their borders by regulating visitors, particularly from foreign states. Therefore, state laws regarding border control (regulating visitors, but not naturalization) are not unconstitutional, as long as they augment and do not contradict federal border control law.
In short, liberals are wrongly trying to use the Supremacy Clause to justify their rejection of federalism by portraying the Clause as granting the federal government authority to do whatever they want, despite the delicate balance the Framers of the Constitution established between federal and state rights for the preservation of liberty. The Supremacy Clause grants certain powers to the federal government – the powers enumerated in the Constitution that relate to the Union of States – and prohibits the states only a few powers, but that document reserves all other powers to the states that formed that Union, which was made even clearer by the adoption of the Tenth Amendment as the summation of the Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”