Utah Governor Signs State Constitutional Sovereignty Act Into Law

The bill establishes a legal framework that grants Utah lawmakers the authority to reject certain federal actions that they deem unconstitutional.
Utah Governor Signs State Constitutional Sovereignty Act Into Law
President Joe Biden reacts as National Governors Association Vice Chair Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah delivers a toast at a black-tie dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House on Feb. 11, 2023. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Allan Stein

Utah’s Republican governor has signed into law a bill that is intended to guard against federal overreach in state affairs.

The Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act (SB 57) allows state lawmakers to ignore federal directives that violate Utah’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the bill’s Republican sponsor, state Sen. Scott Sandall.

“Far too often, we’ve seen the federal executive branch bypass the legislative process to enact policies that extend beyond its constitutionally given jurisdiction, frequently to the detriment of Utah’s citizens,” Mr. Sandall said in a statement.

“This bill establishes a democratic framework we can utilize to defend Utahns against destructive regulations while still honoring the U.S. Constitution.”

SB 57 grants state lawmakers the authority to reject specific federal actions that they deem unconstitutional “unless ruled constitutional by the courts.”

Mr. Sandall said the bill’s framework reinforces Utah’s constitutional rights to “legislate in any area not explicitly reserved for the federal government.”

“Utah is the best-managed state in the nation,” he said. “Unlike the disorganization happening at the federal level, Utah’s legislative and executive branches know how to work together to get things done. We have a better insight into how we can help our citizens.

“It is our duty to protect Utahns against out-of-touch, damaging policies.”

In a statement, Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams said, “We respect the invaluable function of the federal government in our democracy, but under the U.S. Constitution, its power is supposed to be limited.

“Our goal is to restore the balance of power between the state and the federal government. We plan to use this legislation only in extreme cases where we believe a federal law will have devastating consequences to Utah.”

The law provides a framework for the state Legislature to reject unconstitutional federal actions with the joint approval of the Senate president and House speaker or a two-thirds majority vote of the state House and Senate.

“Once a resolution is introduced, it will go through the legislative process as any other proposed bill, including public committee meetings and floor debates,” a Utah Senate statement reads.

“If passed by the Utah Legislature and signed by the governor, the state is no longer required to comply with the unconstitutional action unless the courts rule the federal regulations constitutional.”

The law resembles a 2022 bill passed by Canada’s Alberta Legislature that established a legal framework to protect provincial sovereignty against federal government overreach.

Critics of SB 57 have said that it is in direct violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants ultimate authority to the federal government in matters involving conflicting state laws.

The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, an environmental group, said there are several instances in which the Supreme Court rejected state sovereignty efforts based on the Supremacy Clause.

“The potential impact of SB 57 on areas such as air quality regulations, like the EPA’s Ozone Transport Rule, is of particular concern to HEAL Utah,” the organization wrote on its website.

“We firmly believe that protecting our air quality and the health of our residents should be a top priority. SB 57 could divert valuable resources and attention away from crucial efforts to improve Utah’s air quality, which is already a pressing concern for our state.”

Before the bill’s signing, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah wrote a letter to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, urging that he veto the bill as unconstitutional.

“Purporting to give the Utah legislature the power to unilaterally declare that no Utah official will enforce or assist in the enforcement of a federal directive comes into clear conflict with this goal,” the ACLU wrote.

“People in Utah deserve certainty that the state will honor their federal rights and protections, and SB 57 will throw this principle into serious doubt.”

Despite these objections, Mr. Cox, a Republican, signed the bill into law on Jan. 31.