COVID and Compromise

COVID and Compromise

By Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

The South Carolina government officially stated that the White House ignored States’ Rights under the Tenth Amendment, and “violated the true meaning and intent of the Constitution.” Theactions of the administration in D.C. as a result “are null, void, and no law” and are not binding on the citizens of South Carolina nor on its government. Furthermore, the state government said, it is unlawful for any state employee to enforce the federal government’s actions in this case, so the federal mandate will not take effect here. All state employees will be required to follow South Carolina rather than federal guidelines; failure to do so will result in their immediate firing from state employment.

No, the above is not about the recent federal requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations. The South Carolina government’s guidance in the paragraph above was written in 1832. It was the core of the “Nullification Ordinance” protesting President Andrew Jackson and the Congress imposing import tariffs on foreign trade. Doesn’t that logic sound familiar, in 2021? Governor McMaster has repeated the state’s 1832 argument.South Carolina and a few other states are once again countering a federal requirement based on their interpretation of the Constitution. The 1832 Nullification Ordinance stated that if the federal government overruled South Carolina, even if byan unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, the state would secede from the Union. The 1832 crisis ended when Kentucky’s Senator Henry Clay worked out a compromise (the tariff would be phased out over the next few years). It was over adifferent issue – protection of slavery – that South Carolina seceded from the Union a generation later.

What is this new vaccine mandate all about,and how does it affect South Carolina schools? The state’s official website regarding students in private and public schools says all students “must be up-to-date on the following shots based on their grade level”: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, DTaP (tetanus, whooping cough), Polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and chickenpox. A Tdap (whooping cough) booster is required before the seventh grade. There is a separate list for vaccines not required but “highly recommended by physicians for all students.” That list includes an annual flu shot, HPV vaccines, and meningitis. The guidelines were written before the COVID-19 vaccine, so it is not yet on either list. It ismisleading to say that vaccinations in South Carolina are left to the discretion of parents; your child must have those required shots to attend school. The only option remaining is home schooling.

The 1832 Nullification Ordinance was set aside by Henry Clay’s compromise, but it was never settled in a legal sense; the final decisionregarding states overruling federal mandates was not reached until Appomattox in 1865. South Carolina’s 2021 nullification effort does not direct state employees to ignore any federal court ruling on its constitutionality, so the federal COVID-19 mandates are likely to be settled in a bloodless fashion. So far, federal courts have sometimes ruled for and at other times against thesemandates; if the courts finally rule in their favor,schools as well as employees in South Carolina will be required to follow federal guidance and to ignore any contrary state guidance.

We’ve been down this road before: the ideas behind South Carolina’s 1832 Nullification Ordinance placed it squarely on the road to Civil War. It has been said that “History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it rhymes.” What we need regarding COVID-19 is a compromise, perhaps a bipartisan solution like the one that led to the Infrastructure Bill, with several Republicans joining Democrats in passing it. That is not the road that Governor McMaster is travelling. Will South Carolina’s state and federal legislative delegations fill that need, in putting together a compromise now, 189 years later?

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