INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that would prevent state and local law enforcement from helping federal officials with the indefinite detentions of any U.S. citizen.
The measure, approved by the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, is aimed at a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that allows the federal government to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders.
State Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia, originally sought to make it a misdemeanor in Indiana for a federal official to indefinitely detain someone. But the committee unanimously amended the bill to limit it to Indiana law enforcement to overcome an insurmountable obstacle: Indiana law can't trump federal law under the U.S. Constitution.
Banks, and a group of Indiana tea partyers and Occupy Wall Street activists who packed the committee room Tuesday, said they fear the federal government will use the federal law to secretly hold Americans without court appearances.
"Many people believe, myself included, that this is a significant departure from our constitutional rights," he said. "Folks, this is clearly unconstitutional law, throwing out due process, allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens right here in the state of Indiana. That's why I brought Senate Bill 400 to you."
It's one of a handful of "nullification" measures that have been filed by conservative lawmakers arguing that measures like the NDAA and the federal health care law are invalid because they are unconstitutional. One measure, arguing the state does not need to adhere to the federal health care law, has been bottled away in the Senate rules committee on the assumption that it would be found unconstitutional following last year's Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care law.
Banks' bill was the first "nullification" measure to receive a hearing this year. While the amended bill removes that direct showdown with the federal government, it still makes the intended point.
"What this says is we will not participate in those acts with the federal government and carry those provisions out. If the federal government is going to carry that out, we're not going to carry it out," said Senate Corrections Chairman Mike Young, R-Indianapolis. "We're not going to participate without due process."
Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers told the panel that the U.S. Constitution's "supremacy clause" grants the federal government clear power, it does not bar the states and local officials from fighting back against what they see as clear violations of the Constitution.
"The problem is the federal government has grown to the point where they think they can do anything and they're supreme in all cases," he said.