NULLIFICATION: The Power to Right Constitutional Wrongs

NULLIFICATION - John Greenleaf Whittier (Abolitionist and Nullifier)    by Diane Rufino, July 9, 2015

THOMAS JEFFERSON wondered how the country would respond in the case its government passed a law that was clearly unconstitutional. As Secretary of State under our first president, George Washington, he already witnessed the wheels of government try to enlarge provisions in the Constitution to give the administration unchecked powers to tax and spend. Washington would establish the first National Bank. Jefferson knew the trend would continue. And it did.  Our second president, John Adams, signed the Alien & Sedition Acts into law, which were laws addressing the Quasi War (undeclared) with France at the time. The French Revolution just killed off the monarch and his family and tensions flared up between the new French republic and its old rival, England. There was an influx of French immigrants and Americans were split in their support of the old French system or the new republic. Although the Alien Acts (3 of them) were offensive, it was the Sedition Act that was most glaringly so. The Sedition Act made it a crime (fines and jail sentences) should any person “write, print, utter, or publish, OR cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered, or published, OR assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering, or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either House of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States….”   The Constitutional red flags went up at once.  The immediate violations jumped out to men like Jefferson and Madison, and many others. While the Alien Acts violated the 10th Amendment and the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment, the Sedition Act was a blatant violation of the 1st Amendment and its guarantee of Free Speech (most importantly, political speech!)  John Adams, a Federalist, saw nothing wrong with any of the laws.  Neither did his Federalist co-members of government or his Federalist judges.  Thomas Jefferson, the Vice President at the time (since he got the second highest votes in the election of 1796) wasn’t a Federalist. He was a Republican-Democrat (a party he founded).  [Notice that the Sedition Act protected everyone from slander EXCEPT the VP !!].  The Checks and Balances didn’t work. Political power was more important than the rights the government was created to protect!

And so, convictions quickly followed. Journalists, publishers, and even congressmen were fined and jailed. Not a single person targeted was a Federalist. The only ones targeted were Republicans.  The men who wrote our founding documents – Jefferson and Madison – began a series of correspondences to discuss what should be done to prevent such unconstitutional laws from being enforced on people who had a rightful expectation of exercising the liberties promised in the Declaration and in the Bill of Rights. (And of course they had to be very careful lest they be convicted under the law!)  Jefferson saw that there are 3 possible remedies when a government tries to enforce unconstitutional laws..  (1) Seek an opinion from the Judiciary;  (2) Secession; or  (3) Nullification.  Jefferson advised against the first two remedies.  He said the first was unpredictable and unreliable. He believed justices were men motivated by the same passions, political motivations, thirst for power and legacy, and opinions as politicians and could not be counted on to be impartial interpreters of the Constitution. He also realized that the judiciary was only one branch of government (the least powerful at the time), and although it would render an opinion, Congress and the President were not required to abide by its ruling. Furthermore, the courts were all Federalists at the time and were part of the problem!.  Jefferson said secession was certainly a legitimate option (after all, the Declaration itself was a secessionist document), but said it was far too extreme and every effort should be made to keep the union together in a workable fashion.  The third option, he said, was “the rightful remedy.”  Nullification, he said, was the remedy inherent in the states’ ratification of the Constitution, inherent in the doctrine of federalism, a remedy grounded in law itself, and the remedy that would allow hot tempers to cool and would prevent states from threatening to leave the Union.  Madison agreed.

Nullification is the doctrine which states that any law that is made without proper legal authority is immediately null and void and therefore unenforceable. Laws have to be enforced by officials – federal and state. When the government passes a law pursuant to its powers, it is supreme and binding. Every level of enforcement recognizes the law. States are obligated to uphold it and help enforce it.  An example are the federal immigration laws.  When the government passes a law that it has no authority to make – such as the Sedition Act, which offends the 1st Amendment which is a strict prohibition on the government with respect to individual speech (political speech) – then in terms of legality, the law is null and void.  For a government to try to enforce it would be an act of tyranny. (Tyranny is defined as a government that abuses its powers and enforces unpopular laws).  Since the law is null and void, no enforcement agency should force the law on the people. Government will never admit its law is unconstitutional or unenforceable and so it is up to the states and the communities (and their enforcement agencies) to prevent such law from being enforced.  The states are the rightful parties to stand up for the people against a tyrannical act of government. When the government assumes power to legislate that it was not granted in the Constitution, it usurps (or steals it) from its rightful depository, which are either the States or the People (see the 10th and the 9th Amendments).  Every party must always jealously guard its sphere of government; it’s bundle of rights.  States have their powers of government and people have their rights of self-government (ie, control over their own lives, thoughts, actions, and property). Again, if we look at the Sedition Act, the government under John Adams passed the law by attempting to steal the rights of free speech from the People.

Well, immediately, Jefferson and Madison got out their pens and drafted the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and of 1799 (Jefferson, for the Kentucky state legislature) and the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 (Madison, for the Virginia state legislature).  Both states passed them, declaring that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable in their states.  The Virginia Resolutions were especially forceful because they announced that the state of Virginia would take every step possible to prevent the enforcement of the laws on its people.

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Jefferson wrote:

  1. Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, he wrote:

RESOLVED, That this commonwealth considers the federal union, upon the terms and for the purposes specified in the late compact, as conducive to the liberty and happiness of the several states: That it does now unequivocally declare its attachment to the Union, and to that compact, agreeable to its obvious and real intention, and will be among the last to seek its dissolution: That if those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, annihilation of the state governments, and the erection upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers: That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that anullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy……

In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, James Madison wrote:

RESOLVED……. That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.

The government hates the doctrine of Nullification and has used every opportunity to discredit it.  And it makes sense.  And doctrine that gives power to the States is offensive to the federal government. It makes them harder to control. We all know how angry the government gets when any state criticizes or attempts to frustrate the government’s laws, policies, and agenda.  Nullification, like secession, is a fundamental sovereign power reserved to each state. Since the states did not form the Union by unlimited submission to the common government they created, certain powers remain vested in them.  Despite what Lincoln and Obama may claim, the states did NOT create, or attempt to create, or even envision creating a “perpetual” Union by ratifying the Constitution.  Those words are merely wishful thinking by despots and revisionists.

NULLIFICATION - When Injustice Becomes Law, Nullification Becomes a Duty

The biggest tool the government has in its arsenal to shut down the discussion of Nullification is RACISM.  According to the government’s position – as evidenced in texts, government spokespersons, liberal pundits, college professors – Nullification is a racist doctrine that was used to help the states resist integration following Brown v. Board of Education (1953). For years, the southern states were demonized and punished by the northern states for the Civil War (War of Northern Aggression) and because the North was forcibly and quickly transforming their society, there were actions that would clearly be classified as “reactive” and “lashing out.” The North, as the victors of the war, had the benefit of writing history and telling the “official” story.  Nullification was used once in the south after the Brown decision. It was used by the governor and state legislature of Arkansas to prevent integration of the schools in the state (they amended the state constitution). They believed the decision was arbitrary and unconstitutional and believed the court had no power to enforce it. After all, approximately 1/5 of the entire membership of Congress signed a statement in 1956 pretty much declaring the same thing. They also feared what would happen given the level of hostility in the state. But Little Rock continued to move forward with its plan for desegregation. Eventually, in 1958, the Little Rock School Board filed suit asking for a court order allowing them to delay desegregation. They alleged that public hostility to desegregation and opposition created by the governor and the state legislature created an intolerable and chaotic situation. The relief the plaintiffs requested was for the African-American children to be returned to segregated schools and for the implementation of the desegregation plan to be postponed for two and a half years. The case went to the Supreme Court, which declared that no state had the right to ignore any of its decisions. Citing Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, the Court emphasized that its decisions are binding on all the states and that to ignore them is to “wage war on the Constitution.” In other words, opponents of nullification assert that this case stands for the premise that states cannot nullify federal laws.

Racism invites passion. It questions motives, clouds judgment, obscures facts, and shuts down debate. Racism assumes that no party has any grievance or concern more important than that of the African-American. It assumes there is no part of history more important than slavery, abolition, and Jim Crow.  Racism never dies, according to the government.  Racism never dies, according to the irresponsible media.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that our current government is fanning the flames once again in history of racism and making sure we are once again defined as a racist nation. In this time when Nullification should be the topic everyone wants to re-address, the countering argument will always be: “Look, they’re trying to go back to the days of segregation.”

And so, I wanted to write this to emphasize the REAL story of Nullification..  and the REAL success of Nullification.  It wasn’t in light of the Alien & Sedition Acts. It wasn’t the publication of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (because, let’s be honest, most of the other states were too timid to adopt similar resolutions and so the states, in the end, didn’t stand up to the government as Jefferson and Madison had hoped. There were probably 2 reasons for this: (1) The Acts were set to expire at the end of Adams’ term, which was only 2 years away so why get their panties in a wad; and  (2) the Union was extremely fragile at this point  – rebellions all over the place over the government’s authority to tax and collect – and the states didn’t want to exacerbate the situation.  The real success story of Nullification was in the rejection of the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Laws.

Yes, the American flag, believe it or not, was the official flag of a slave nation for 77 years (1788 – 1865).  Slavery was protected in the United States by the Constitution for those years. Although slave importation had been abolished by the time the Constitution was ratified and the Union was created, the institution itself was still constitutional. Not only was it constitutional, but slaves, as property, were required (by the Constitution) to be returned to their owner. State agents, courts, and instrumentalities were required to enforce these federal laws.  But abolitionists in the North, like Rosa Parks herself sitting on a seat in a public bus, knew that the laws were revolting and fundamentally wrong.  Through civil acts of disobedience, like Ms. Parks refusing to give up her seat, those in states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, either outright enacted laws which nullified Fugitive Slave Laws or they acted to frustrate or otherwise render useless any attempt to enforce them. Nullification was a very successful way for escaped slaves to finally realize freedom in the North. It’s pretty hard to claim Nullification is racist, like its opponents do, when it served such a public good (while the US Constitution protected something so evil).   The following video does an amazing job to educate people on the history of Nullification and to explain its power to right wrong.

https://www.facebook.com/tenthamendmentcenter/videos/10152871564545764/?fref=nf  (from the Tenth Amendment Center)

Keep the Federal Government in Check with NULLIFICATION – Not Liberty Amendments!

Nullification - Mark Levin v. Thomas Jefferson

by Diane Rufino, October 10, 2013

Mark Levin, who wrote an excellent book “The Liberty Amendments” to urge states to call for an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments to restore the federal government back to some sort of constitutional limits, calls Nullifiers “kooks.”  His solution is to keep the federal government in check by a series of constitutional amendments.

My question to Mr. Levin is this:  Why do we need to AMEND the Constitution? The Constitution has never been legally altered from its original meaning. What we need to do is FINALLY ENFORCE the Constitution that was ratified by the States in 1787-1788. The government represents the CONSENT of the GOVERNED and has never been delegated any authority to autonomously expand or enlarge its powers. The Declaration of Independence, which provides the framework for our common intent and understanding of government, assures that government is a creature of the people to SERVE the people. Only the people have the power to “alter or abolish” government. The scope of government is at the will of the people. Government has no power to alter itself or to abolish any rights of the people. What does this mean?  It means that every time the government oversteps its limited authority under the Constitution, it takes sovereign power away from the People and the States. Our Founders warned about this when they included the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and that’s why those amendments are included… They remind us that any step beyond the authority in the Constitution is an infringement on the natural rights of the Individual or the sovereign rights of the States.

For the past 200 years, the government has steadily stepped beyond its constitutional authority and stepped on the rights of others. It’s time those who have had their rights trampled upon step up and say NO MORE.  Nullification is the rightful remedy, based precisely on the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence.  As long as it is understood that government derives from the people, is accountable to them, serves them, and is at all times subject to their right to alter or abolish it, then it should not be expected that People have to go through great pains and efforts to ask it to abide by its charter.  The Constitution is a limit on the government to hold it accountable to the People and NOT a limit on the People to demand such accountability.

The Rightful Remedy is Nullification and NOT constitutional amendments. Don’t get me wrong. When the people want to knowingly and intentionally alter their Constitution and change their form of government, then amendments are the proper remedy.  But when government oversteps the bounds of authority that the PEOPLE have set on it in the Constitution and tramples on the rights of other parties, the proper remedy to stop that usurpation and to reign in the power and scope of government is not through amendments but through Nullification. Nullification recognizes the founding American government principle that any power not expressly delegated to the government by the People (for their benefit) cannot be assumed by it. Therefore, when government attempts to overstep its (constitutional) boundaries, those laws are without legal authority, are null and void, and are unenforceable on the People.  Requiring the People to go through a series of seemingly insurmountable hoops (ie, constitutional amendments) to try to control their government seems is akin to having them beg the federal government to “Please, please, please try to respect the Constitution.”

It seems the great majority of people, including Mr. Levin, have forgotten what a Constitution is, at its core.  John Jay, who wrote five of the essays compiled in The Federalist Papers and who went on to be appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court by President George Washington, wrote: “What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people and is the supreme law of the land…  It is stable and permanent, not to be worked upon by the temper of the times.. It remains firm and immovable, as a mountain amidst the raging of the waves.”  Thomas Paine, in his Rights of Man, wrote: “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.”  And in 1782, in his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson explained: “The purpose of a written constitution is to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights.”

I believe Mark Levin is dead wrong in attacking the Nullification movement.  I respect him immensely, but if he truly believes that we must amend the Constitution in order to restore the Constitution – when the Constitution was never legally amended to get us in the predicament that we are in – then he has a flawed understanding of our founding principles and the American founding philosophy of government.

He presupposes that only the People and the States need to abide by Constitutional limits.  It doesn’t matter to him that the federal government, the one party that IS supposed to be limited by the Constitution, has repeatedly, defiantly, and grossly misinterpreted and abused its terms.  Mr. Levin is so hung up on “what the People and the States can constitutionally do” to bring the government back in line (and by that, I mean that he wants the remedy to be expressly articulated in the Constitution) that he forgets that even as he is out on his book tour to promote “The Liberty Amendments,” the federal government continues to willfully ignore its constitutional limitations and obligations. The Rightful Remedy should be the one that most effectively and immediately puts the government back in check and restores the proper balance of power between the government, People, and the States. The amendment process will take many years and will most likely fall through. And even if an Article V Convention of the States is able to move forward, the amendments produced will most likely be more symbolic than effectual.  A government that is supposed to serve the People (“that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”) should be accessible by the People and a Constitution that is supposed to protect the People from government should NOT effectively shut the People out from “altering” their government so that it isn’t “becoming destructive of its ends.” Nullification, on the other hand, checks the government at every instance.  It puts sovereign power in the hands of those who were the intended depositories – the People.

Nullification is the magic bullet.  As government hemorrhages and our nation dies of toxic ideological poisoning, Nullification is the treatment that patriots can use to get our system healthy again.

Opponents of Nullification want to take this remedy away.  They want to take the one true remedy that is based on the principles our nation was founded upon and discredit it by associating it with themes that the average uninformed American has been brainwashed on.  First, they try to dismiss it by claiming that the government trumps any action of the State on account of the Supremacy Clause.  They believe that since the government has the exclusive right and power to define the extent of its powers and to twist and bend the Constitution to serve its purposes, the Supremacy Clause is the enforcement “badge” that allows it to push any and all laws on the States. By extension, they believe that the Supremacy Clause should be a restraining order on the States so that they don’t get the urge to second-guess the actions and intentions of the federal government.

Second, they discredit Nullification by claiming that the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. They say that the theory of nullification has been rejected repeatedly by the courts (in particular by the Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, 1859 and in Cooper v. Aaron, 1958), and it has never been legally upheld.  Furthermore, they claim that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the exclusive and final power to interpret the Constitution (Marbury v. Madison, 1803). Therefore, the exclusive power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the States.  Consequently, the States have no power to challenge any decision the federal government makes with respect to the laws it passes or the decisions it hands down, and they have no power to nullify federal laws.  Opponents of nullification claim this is the constitutional.

They neglect, of course, to mention that it was the federal government itself that delegated that exclusive power to itself.

Contrary to what the opponents claim, the Supremacy Clause does NOT foreclose Nullification, as most opponents of Nullification claim.  The two principles actually work hand-in-hand.  The Supremacy Clause states that “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.” The Supremacy Clause acknowledges that the Constitution provides legal authority to make certain laws and only laws enacted pursuant to that authority shall be considered supreme law. What it doesn’t say is what happens when the government makes laws NOT in pursuance of legitimate constitutional authority.  And that’s where Nullification steps in. Nullification reaffirms the point of the Supremacy Clause. It acknowledges that government has certain powers to legislate but that the power is not plenary. When the government acts pursuant to its constitutional power, its laws are supreme. But when it acts in abuse or violation of those powers, or assumes power not granted, Nullification provides the remedy. It provides that the States can challenge the government when it passes an unconstitutional law by refusing to enforce it upon the People.  A free people should never have to suffer the enforcement of unconstitutional laws on them.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t want to recognize the inherent limitation in the Supremacy Clause – that only those laws made “in pursuance” to the Constitution are supreme.  It wants to continue along the self-serving path that allows it to make laws for whatever purpose it wants and to interpret the Constitution to suit it best and to claim it all under the Supremacy Clause.  People want Liberty.  Governments want concentrated power.  These are competing goals.  Our Founders understood that.  And for that very reason, the States were designated as a co-equal Sovereign. The States would forever be an antagonistic force (much like the prosecutor and defense attorney are in a criminal case) that keeps the federal government confined to its exclusive and particular sphere of authority and out of their sphere of government.  “Reserved” powers meant exactly that.  Those powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are reserved by the People and the States.

In Ableman v. Booth, the Supreme Court held that the state of Wisconsin didn’t have the right to nullify the Fugitive Slave law because of the right of the Court to exclusively determine what the Constitution says and means (Marbury v. Madison, 1803).

It should not be forgotten, however, that Ableman decision was written by Justice Roger Taney who also authored the absolute most heinous Supreme Court decision in US history – the Dred Scott decision. That alone should demonstrate how fallible the federal courts are and how tainted, skewed, politically-motivated, academically-limited, and intellectually-dishonest Supreme Court justices are.

In Cooper v. Aaron, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion.  That opinion held: “The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ingeniously or ingenuously.”

Chief Justice Warren continued: “It is necessary only to recall some basic constitutional propositions which are settled doctrine.  Article VI of the Constitution makes the Constitution the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’ In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court, referring to the Constitution as “the fundamental and paramount law of the nation,’ declared in the notable case of Marbury v. Madison,  that ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’ This decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and that principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the Country as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system.  It follows that the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land, and Article VI of the Constitution makes it of binding effect on the States ‘any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.’ Every state legislator and executive and judicial officer is solemnly committed by oath taken pursuant to Article VI, clause 3 “to support this Constitution…..  If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.”

Justice Frankfurter, concurring in the opinion, wrote separately: “The States must yield to an authority that is paramount to the State.”

Of course, Chief Justice Earl Warren also wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, the case upon which the Cooper case was based.  Is it any wonder that he would try to deny states the opportunity to challenge the merits of that decision?

The Supreme Court likes to cite its early decision in Marbury v Madison (1803).  Opponents of Nullification like to cite Marbury v. Madison. They say that this case definitively establishes the principle that the Supreme Court has the exclusive power to interpret and define the Constitution.  And it’s no wonder why this case is a favorite of the Court, of government in general, and of those who favor our current bloated, energetic centralized government.  Since this decision was an enlargement of government powers by giving the federal judiciary plenary power to interpret the Constitution and proclaim what the law of the land is (without being subject to any check or balance under the Constitution), it put the government in a further position to hold a monopoly on the meaning and scope of its powers.  Nullification doesn’t ask us what the Supreme Court says on a particular matter.  Nullification applies regardless of what the Court has said because it, like every other branch, is capable of acting outside of Constitutional authority.  Nullification is an implied principle.  It is the implied (enforcement) power behind the Tenth Amendment just as the federal government has the implied power to enforce its laws and policies under the Supremacy Clause. If the States are truly to be co-sovereigns as our system was intended and designed, under the Constitution and especially with the Bill of Rights (Ninth and Tenth Amendments), then the States must have an equal opportunity to assert their rights under the Tenth Amendment, as well as the Peoples’ rights under the Ninth Amendment. To say that the government alone can assert its sovereignty (under the Supremacy Clause) would be to absolutely deny the concept of Dual Sovereignty and to severely jeopardize the precious balance of sovereign (government) power that uniquely defines our American system of government and which most strongly protects our individual liberty.

As we all know, We the People are vested, under Natural Law and God’s Law, with fundamental rights. The Declaration of Independence acknowledges this and further states that People, in order to organize into productive societies and in order not to sacrifice any of their rights, establish governments (by the “consent of the governed,” by a temporary delegation of their right to exercise and defend their rights, and for the primary purpose of protecting and securing individual rights).  The People, because they are sovereign and have the Natural right to determine their form of government and also because they have the right to take their sovereign power back from government, have the right to “alter or abolish” their government when it becomes destructive of its ends.  As we know, the Declaration provides the foundation for the Constitution. It establishes the philosophy or ideology of Individual Rights, Sovereignty, and Government. The Constitution then created or established a limited government based on that philosophy/ideology and on those principles.  The States, fearing that the Constitution drafted and adopted at the Convention in 1787 might try to step on the rights and powers of the People and the States, insisted that the Constitution be amended with certain “declaratory and limiting phrases” – which would be our Bill of Rights.  Two of those amendments were the Ninth and Tenth Amendments which guarantee that those powers not expressly delegated from the People/States to the federal government are reserved to the People and States, respectively.  This is precisely the type of government referred to and envisioned in our Declaration…  one that only gives to a government those powers that the People are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily willing to give it.  But if the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are to MEAN anything, then there has to be an implied enforcement power.  That power to keep the federal government limited is what federalism is all about. It is all about acknowledging the power of the States to forcibly assert its dominance on those reserve powers. Nullification is an implied power.  Just like the Supremacy Clause has an associated enforcement power which the government is so fond of asserting, the States have Nullification.

It should be noted that Marbury v. Madison was a powerful decision in a few very important aspects.  In particular, the decision emphasized and reinforced two key constitutional themes:

(1)  Justices on the Supreme Court are bound to interpret the Constitution strictly and according to the intention of the Founders and those who ratified it (at the time it was ratified).  Justices are bound by ORIGINAL INTENT and STRICT RULES of CONSTRUCTION (words don’t magically change definition as the times change and the Constitution doesn’t evolve with evolving times. Only through the Amendment process (which is how the People declare their intent to alter their form of government and its terms) can the Constitution be altered or amended to reflect changing times. “That the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent. This original and supreme will organizes the government and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments. The Government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it, or that the Legislature may alter the Constitution by an ordinary act. Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.”

(2)  Justices must adhere strictly to their oath, which is to the Constitution (as ratified) and not to any administration or political party.  Anytime a justice veers from his oath and doesn’t interpret the Constitution according to strict construction and original intent he commits TREASON.  “The framers of the Constitution contemplated that the Constitution would serve as a rule for the courts, as well as of the Legislature. Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies in an especial manner to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support! Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States if that Constitution forms no rule for his government?  If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe or to take this oath becomes equally a crime.”

On the other hand, Jefferson disagreed with Marshall’s reasoning with respect to judicial review, the doctrine the case is known for establishing.  In Marbury, Chief Justice Marshall declared that it is emphatically the duty of the federal judiciary to say what the law is. “Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each.  If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.”

Marshall continued: “An act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.  This theory is essentially attached to a written Constitution.”  In other words, when the Constitution – the nation’s highest law – conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid.  Jefferson criticized the decision by arguing that “the Constitution has erected no such tribunal” with such power.  He argued that “to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions would be a very dangerous doctrine that which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

It’s worth noting that the Constitution lacks a clear statement authorizing the federal courts to nullify the acts of co-equal branches, yet the Supreme Court went ahead and assumed that power for itself (under the guise of “judicial review”).  There is also no statement in the Constitution that prohibits States from nullifying acts of the federal government (yet it is strongly implied in the Tenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause), but the Supreme Court went ahead and denied that power to the States.

As one lawyer and opponent of Nullification writes: “Anyone who believes that Nullification is legitimate either 1) Hasn’t read relevant Supreme Court opinions, or 2) believes that centuries of Constitutional precedent should simply be thrown aside.”  Obviously this lawyer hasn’t read Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration and consultant to James Madison, the author of our Constitution, or James Madison himself.  Both warned about putting too much power in the federal judiciary.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to William C Jarvis in 1820: “To consider the Judges of the Superior Court as the ultimate arbiters of constitutional questions would be a dangerous doctrine which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have with others, the same passion for party, for power, and for the privileges of their corps – and their power is the most dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the Elective control. The Constitution has elected no single tribunal.  I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves.”   

Jefferson wrote to Charles Hammond in 1821: “The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary: an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

And Abraham Lincoln, in criticizing the Dred Scott decision, said: “If the policy of government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having, to that extent, practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

I have read what our Founders wrote about Nullification.  I believe it to be as legitimate a doctrine as any other check and balance doctrine on which our government was based.  I believe it to be as foundational a principle as limited government and “government of the People.”  I will never place the opinions of any federal court judge over the very words of those who defined our American notion of ordered liberty and our system of government. I know what the intentions were of our Founders – to honor the spirit of our American Revolution and to secure individual liberty.  I always question the intentions and judgment of federal court judges.

Justice Felix Frankurter, who served on the Supreme Court from 1939-1962, once said this about the high Court’s decisions: “The ultimate touchstone of constitutionality is the Constitution itself and not what we have said about it.”  And we should take his advice and disregard the Court’s opinion in Cooper – and in Ableman too!

Attorney General Edwin Meese, III (Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan), a constitutional scholar, was highly critical of the Cooper v. Aaron decision, and in fact delivered these words to Tulane University Law in 1986:

      “A decision by the Supreme Court does not establish a ‘supreme Law of the Land’ that is binding on all persons and parts of government, henceforth and forevermore.  Obviously it does have binding quality: It binds the parties in a case and also the executive branch for whatever enforcement is necessary.  But there is a necessary distinction between the Constitution and constitutional law.  The two are not synonymous. The Constitution is a document of our most fundamental law.  It begins ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…’ and ends up, some 6,000 words later, with the 26th Amendment. It creates the institutions of our government, it enumerates the powers those institutions may wield, and it cordons off certain areas into which government may not enter. It prohibits the national authority, for example, from passing ex post facto laws while it prohibits the states from violating the obligations of contracts. The Constitution is, in brief, the instrument by which the consent of the governed – the fundamental requirement of any legitimate government – is transformed into a government complete with ‘the powers to act and a structure designed to make it act wisely or responsibly.’ Among its various ‘internal contrivances’ (as James Madison called them) we find federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism, representation, an extended commercial republic, an energetic executive, and an independent judiciary. Together, these devices form the machinery of our popular form of government and secure the rights of the people. The Constitution, then, is the Constitution, and as such it is, in its own words, ‘the supreme Law of the Land.’

      Constitutional law, on the other hand, is that body of law which has resulted from the Supreme Court’s adjudications involving disputes over constitutional provisions or doctrines. To put it a bit more simply, constitutional law is what the Supreme Court says about the Constitution in its decisions resolving the cases and controversies that come before it.

      The Supreme Court is not the only interpreter of the Constitution. Each of the three coordinate branches of government created and empowered by the Constitution – the executive and legislative no less than the judicial – has a duty to interpret the Constitution in the performance of its official functions. In fact, every official takes an oath precisely to that effect.  For the same reason that the Constitution cannot be reduced to constitutional law, the Constitution cannot simply be reduced to what Congress or the President say it is either. Quite the contrary. The Constitution, the original document of 1787 plus its amendments, is and must be understood to be the standard against which all laws, policies and interpretations must be measured.

     But in their task of interpreting the Constitution, the courts have on occasion been tempted to think that the law of their decisions is on a par with the Constitution. That is, they have reduced the Constitution to constitutional law.

     Some thirty years ago, in the midst of great racial turmoil, our highest Court succumbed to this very temptation. By a flawed reading of our Constitution and Marbury v. Madison, and an even more faulty syllogism of legal reasoning, the Court in a 1958 case called Cooper v. Aaron appeared to arrive at conclusions about its own power that would have shocked men like John Marshall and Joseph Story.  In this case the Court proclaimed that the constitutional decision it had reached that day was nothing less than ‘the supreme law of the land.’ Obviously the decision was binding on the parties in the case; but the implication that everyone would have to accept its judgments uncritically, that it was a decision from which there could be no appeal, was astonishing; the language recalled what Stephen Douglas said about Dred Scott. In one fell swoop, the Court seemed to reduce the Constitution to the status of ordinary constitutional law, and to equate the judge with the lawgiver. Such logic assumes, as Charles Evans Hughes once quipped, that the Constitution is ‘what the judges say it is.’ The logic of Cooper v. Aaron was, and is, at war with the Constitution, at war with the basic principles of democratic government, and at war with the very meaning of the rule of law.

     Just as Dred Scott had its partisans a century ago, so does Cooper v. Aaron today. For example, a U.S. Senator criticized a recent nominee of the President’s to the bench for his sponsorship while a state legislator of a bill that responded to a Supreme Court decision with which he disagreed. The decision was Stone v. Graham, a 1980 case in which the Court held unconstitutional a Kentucky statute that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in the schools of that state. The bill co-sponsored by the judicial nominee – which, by the way, passed his state’s Senate by a vote of 39 to 9 – would have permitted the posting of the Ten Commandments in the schools of his state. In this, the nominee was acting on the principle Lincoln well understood – that legislators have an independent duty to consider the constitutionality of proposed legislation. Nonetheless, the nominee was faulted for not appreciating that under Cooper v. Aaron, Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land – just like the Constitution.  He was faulted, in other words, for failing to agree with an idea that would put the Court’s constitutional interpretations in the unique position of meaning the same as the Constitution itself.

     My message today is that such interpretations are not and must not be placed in such a position. To understand the distinction between the Constitution and constitutional law is to grasp, as John Marshall observed in Marbury, ‘that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature.’ This was the reason, in Marshall’s view, that a ‘written Constitution is one of the greatest improvements on political institutions.’

     Likewise, James Madison, expressing his mature view of the subject, wrote that as the three branches of government are coordinate and equally bound to support the Constitution, ‘each must in the exercise of its functions be guided by the text of the Constitution according to its own interpretation of it.’ And, as his lifelong friend and collaborator, Jefferson, once said, the written Constitution is ‘our peculiar security.’

     Once again, we must understand that the Constitution is, and must be understood to be, superior to ordinary constitutional law. This distinction must be respected. To do otherwise, as Lincoln once said, ‘is to submit to government by judiciary.’”

It is amazing to me how far we as a nation, as a collective people, have strayed from the principles of individual liberty. Too many people believe they must check with the federal government to see what their rights are and what their Constitution means. Sadly, Mark Levin is one of those Americans.

Here is my biggest problem with Mr. Levin’s promotion of his “Liberty Amendments” – aside from his outright rejection of Nullification: The government has consistently and unabashedly overstepped its authority in the Constitution when it has suited its purposes. In fact, there has rarely been a time when it confined itself to the articles which were delegated to it by the People and the States. Yet Mr. Levin is adamant that the People, in order to try and regain the rights they are entitled to and the proper (and limited) scope of government in their lives, MUST abide strictly by what the Constitution allows them to do.  Again, never mind that the People nor the States ever assented to the changes that the federal government assumed for itself under the Constitution that SHOULD HAVE BEEN made legally through the Article V amendment process….. Mr. Levin still is steadfast that the People need to go through the arduous amendment process in order to get the government to do what it is/ was constitutionally REQUIRED to do.

Being the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Tenth Amendment Center, I naturally am disappointed that Levin has publicly rejected Nullification.  Mr. Levin says that Nullification is not a viable option in limiting the size and scope of the federal government.  When considering how to restore the government to its constitutional limits, he takes the position that Nullification should never be a remedy that is on the table.  In other words, he believes that the People should be carefully, strictly, and narrowly limited in their ability to define and constrain their government. He believes that the only options available should be those both expressly provided in the Constitution and NOT foreclosed by any decision, determination, or proclamation by the government itself.

Michael Maharrey, with the Tenth Amendment Center, defines Nullification as, “those of us with the authority to say no to the federal government executing that authority.”  As every supporter of Nullification knows, the individual states pre-existed the federal government.  While there were some founders (Nationalists) who wanted a national government with a general veto power over any and all legislative acts of the states which it disagreed with, this position was flatly rejected by the majority of delegates (Federalists) to the Constitutional Convention who thought it was the States that needed to be the parties with the veto power over the federal government. These Founders included James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (who may not have been at the Convention but was in constant contact with Madison regarding the task at hand).  As Maharrey explains: “The states created the federal government and enumerated power to it.”  In his writings and when he presents, he is quick to cite Madison’s famous Federalist No. 45 to emphasize the limits of such power enumerated by the states to the federal government, particularly in Article I, Section 8:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

      The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.”

Nullification - Michael Maharrey 2013

Maharrey explained that outside of those few and defined powers, everything else, all other power, is reserved and resides in the sovereignty of the individual people and in the states, in accordance to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution.  Nullification, in short, stands for the proposition that the federal government CANNOT be permitted to hold a monopoly over the interpretation of the Constitution and the definition of its powers and scope of government.  Government is a “creation” of the People and not its ruler.

If our Founding Fathers and founding revolutionaries had taken Mark Levin’s approach towards government, the colonies would never have had any legal ground to sever ties with Great Britain and the Articles of Confederation would still be the legally operable constitution that unites our states (since the people themselves were never apprised of the real purpose of the Convention – to scrap the government created by the Articles of Confederation, to start from scratch, and to draft a new Constitution and create a new government – and hence the delegates were without proper authority to do what they did).

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “That if those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by the federal compact (ie, the US Constitution), but a total disregard to the special delegations of powers therein contained, an annihilation of the state governments, and the creation, upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction, contended by the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism – since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers. That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the RIGHTFUL REMEDY.”   [Kentucky Resolutions of 1799]

James Madison, in his Notes on Nullification (1834), explained: “…when powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act“ is “the natural right, which all admit to be a remedy against insupportable oppression…”

In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, Madison wrote: “That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states (alone) are the parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants (of power) enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are duty-bound, to INTERPOSE for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them…”

At North Carolina’s ratifying convention, James Iredell told the delegates that when ‘Congress passes a law consistent with the Constitution, it is to be binding on the people. If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution.’  In December 1787, Roger Sherman of Connecticut observed that an ‘excellency of the constitution’ was that ‘when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it.’”

I’ll take James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and even James Iredell, the men who defined our liberty, as authorities on what is constitutional or not over Mr. Levin.

Constitutional attorney, Publius Huldah, recently wrote: “Resistance to tyranny is a natural right – and it is a duty.”   I’ll support Ms. Huldah’s position anyday over those attorneys who oppose Nullification.  Ms. Huldah sides with the People and their Natural Rights.  Those other attorneys side with a centralized, all-powerful and all-knowing government – the very thing we fought a Revolution to rid ourselves of.

In the United States, natural rights are protected by government and not violated by it.  At least that was the American ideal.

Nullification is the Rightful Remedy when you understand the simple truth – that anytime the federal government oversteps its constitutional bounds, it is taking away OUR liberty and our right to govern ourselves.  The federal government is not just stepping on the States’ rights, but it is a usurpation of INDIVIDUAL liberty.  Nullification is our immediate remedy to re-assert and reclaim those rights.  Read the Declaration of Independence again.  All government power comes from the individual.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”  Constitutions are written to define what powers the people have consented to give government. Constitutions are a permanent and fixed manifestation of the will of the people as to what inherent powers of self-government they agree to delegate to a common government for their behalf.   They are to be strictly construed and always read in a light most favorable to the individual since it is the individual from whom the power arises and the individual who has the most to lose.  Constitutions are not to be re-interpreted, misconstrued, re-labeled, or diminished in any way, shape, or form. They are not supposed to be “worked upon by the temper of the times.”  All power not expressly delegated resides in the People. Any attempt by a government to assume more powers than it was delegated naturally is a usurpation of the inherent rights and liberties of the People.

Again, as Thomas Paine wrote in his Rights of Man (1791): “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation.”  For anyone who wishes to dismiss Thomas Paine in any discussion of our founding government principles, consider this. It was Thomas Paine that George Washington had his men read as they pressed on in tattered clothes and bloodied bare feet and without pay to fight the Revolutionary War.  Washington wanted his men to understand full well what they were fighting for in America’s quest for independence and the right to govern as they saw fit in order to secure their God-given rights. No man would rightfully sacrifice his life to substitute one tyrant government for another.

When any government continues to usurp the powers of the People, or believes its powers to be more important than the rights of the People to limit their government, or to continue to redefine its powers, it becomes tyrannical. Our Constitution explicitly empowered every American with the right to limit their government. “

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”   The federal government has no right or power to interfere with the right of the People to do so.  Similarly, it has no right to take away the remedy of Nullifcation.

Thomas Woods, author of the best-selling book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century asks: “How can the Supreme Court, part of an agent of the states, have the absolutely final say, even above the sovereign entities that created it?” As Madison explained in his Report of 1800, the courts have their role, but the parties to the Constitution naturally have to have some kind of defense mechanism in the last resort.

The Tenth Amendment was added, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, as an express “further limitation” on the federal government. In other words, the federal government would be limited by the recognition and assertion of States’ Rights and States’ powers.  The preamble to the Bill of Rights states clearly that “a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…”  In other words, the parties that created and signed the Constitution (which then created the federal government) insisted that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments be added in order to more emphatically limit the federal government (all branches) through an emphasis on States’ rights and People’s rights. As such, the Supreme Court has no power to limit the power of the States in its ability to hold the federal government in check. The Bill of Rights is supposed to limit the government; the courts can’t limit the Bill of Rights.  After all, the Bill of Rights is also a limit on the federal courts !!

In conclusion, one only has to look at the enormity of the constitutional crisis we currently face and then look at the likely chance that Mr. Levin’s Article V Convention will offer any real relief.  It is very unlikely that our constitutional republic can be properly restored under that scenario – at least not in the near future. The American people are growing too restless and frustrated to wait.  In his article about a Nullification event in Wisconsin, Christian Gomez wrote: “As Washington continues to show no signs of retreating from its expansionist federal polices, encroachment in the lives of individuals, interference in healthcare, the free market, and violating the Constitution, the battle is not lost. Nor is it far from over, but it could be: ‘All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing,’ Edmund Burke once said. In the case of the Restoring the Republic gathering in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, it is clear that more than just a few good men and women have no intention of doing nothing. So long as the people can be educated about Nullification, then hope is not fleeting.”

 

References:

Thomas Woods, “Is Nullification Unconstitutional?,” February 5, 2013.  Referenced at:  http://www.tomwoods.com/blog/is-nullification-unconstitutional/

Christian Gomez, “’Restoring the Republic’ Event in Wisconsin Addresses Nullification,” The New American, September 25, 2013.  Referenced at: http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/16619-restoring-the-republic-event-in-wisconsin-addresses-nullification

Publius Huldah, “Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification,” Freedom Outpost, September 14, 2013.  Referenced at:  http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/09/mark-levin-refuted-keep-feds-check-nullification-amendments/

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859)

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803),

Edwin Meese III, “The Law of the Constitution.”  A Speech delivered to Tulane University on October 21, 1986.  Referenced at:  http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistory/meese/1986/10-21-1986.pdf

Federalist No 45.  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed45.asp

James Madison, Report of 1800.  http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=875&chapter=63986&layout=html&Itemid=27

 

APPENDIX:

Ableman v. Booth (1859)  –

The Court noted:  “It appears that the State court has not only claimed and exercised this jurisdiction, but has also determined that its decision is final and conclusive upon all the courts of the United States, and ordered their clerk to disregard and refuse obedience to the writ of error issued by this court, pursuant to the act of Congress of 1789, to bring here for examination and revision the judgment of the State court.”

It went on to explain why the federal government and the Supreme Court must be supreme in their particular spheres of authority:

The Constitution was not formed merely to guard the States against danger from foreign nations, but mainly to secure union and harmony at home, for if this object could be attained, there would be but little danger from abroad, and, to accomplish this purpose, it was felt by the statesmen who framed the Constitution and by the people who adopted it that it was necessary that many of the rights of sovereignty which the States then possessed should be ceded to the General Government, and that, in the sphere of action assigned to it, it should be supreme, and strong enough to execute its own laws by its own tribunals, without interruption from a State or from State authorities. And it was evident that anything short of this would be inadequate to the main objects for which the Government was established, and that local interests, local passions or prejudices, incited and fostered by individuals for sinister purposes, would lead to acts of aggression and injustice by one State upon the rights of another, which would ultimately terminate in violence and force unless there was a common arbiter between them, armed with power enough to protect and guard the rights of all by appropriate laws to be carried into execution peacefully by its judicial tribunals.

The language of the Constitution by which this power is granted is too plain to admit of doubt or to need comment. It declares that:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be passed in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.’

But the supremacy thus conferred on this Government could not peacefully be maintained unless it was clothed with judicial power equally paramount in authority to carry it into execution, for if left to the courts of justice of the several States, conflicting decisions would unavoidably take place, and the local tribunals could hardly be expected to be always free from the local influences of which we have spoken. And the Constitution and laws and treaties of the United States, and the powers granted to the Federal Government, would soon receive different interpretations in different States, and the Government of the United States would soon become one thing in one State and another thing in another. It was essential, therefore, to its very existence as a Government that it should have the power of establishing courts of justice, altogether independent of State power, to carry into effect its own laws, and that a tribunal should be established in which all cases which might arise under the Constitution and laws and treaties of the United States, whether in a State court or a court of the United States, should be finally and conclusively decided. Without such a tribunal, it is obvious that there would be no uniformity of judicial decision, and that the supremacy, (which is but another name for independence) so carefully provided in the clause of the Constitution above referred to could not possibly be maintained peacefully unless it was associated with this paramount judicial authority.

The same purposes are clearly indicated by the different language employed when conferring supremacy upon the laws of the United States, and jurisdiction upon its courts. In the first case, it provides that this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, and obligatory upon the judges in every State.

The words in italics show the precision and foresight which marks every clause in the instrument. The sovereignty to be created was to be limited in its powers of legislation, and if it passed a law not authorized by its enumerated powers, it was not to be regarded as the supreme law of the land, nor were the State judges bound to carry it into execution. And as the courts of a State, and the courts of the United States, might, and indeed certainly would, often differ as to the extent of the powers conferred by the General Government, it was manifest that serious controversies would arise between the authorities of the United States and of the States, which must be settled by force of arms unless some tribunal was created to decide between them finally and without appeal.

This judicial power was justly regarded as indispensable not merely to maintain the supremacy of the laws of the United States, but also to guard the States from any encroachment upon their reserved rights by the General Government. And as the Constitution is the fundamental and supreme law, if it appears that an act of Congress is not pursuant to and within the limits of the power assigned to the Federal Government, it is the duty of the courts of the United States to declare it unconstitutional and void. The grant of judicial power is not confined to the administration of laws passed in pursuance to the provisions of the Constitution, nor confined to the interpretation of such laws, but, by the very terms of the grant, the Constitution is under their view when any act of Congress is brought before them, and it is their duty to declare the law void, and refuse to execute it, if it is not pursuant to the legislative powers conferred upon Congress. And as the final appellate power in all such questions is given to this court, controversies as to the respective powers of the United States and the States, instead of being determined by military and physical force, are heard, investigated, and finally settled with the calmness and deliberation of judicial inquiry. And no one can fail to see that, if such an arbiter had not been provided in our complicated system of government, internal tranquillity could not have been preserved, and if such controversies were left to arbitrament of physical force, our Government, State and National, would soon cease to be Governments of laws, and revolutions by force of arms would take the place of courts of justice and judicial decisions.

We do not question the authority of State court or judge who is authorized by the laws of the State to issue the writ of habeas corpus to issue it in any case where the party is imprisoned within its territorial limits, provided it does not appear, when the application is made, that the person imprisoned is in custody under the authority of the United States…..

No State judge or court, after they are judicially informed that the party is imprisoned under the authority of the United States, has any right to interfere with him or to require him to be brought before them…..   Now, it certainly can be no humiliation to the citizen of a republic to yield a ready obedience to the laws as administered by the constituted authorities. On the contrary, it is among his first and highest duties as a citizen, because free government cannot exist without it. Nor can it be inconsistent with the dignity of a sovereign State to observe faithfully, and in the spirit of sincerity and truth, the compact into which it voluntarily entered when it became a State of this Union. On the contrary, the highest honor of sovereignty is untarnished faith. And certainly no faith could be more deliberately and solemnly pledged than that which every State has plighted to the other States to support the Constitution as it is, in all its provisions, until they shall be altered in the manner which the Constitution itself prescribes. In the emphatic language of the pledge required, it is to support this Constitution.  And no power is more clearly conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States than the power of this court to decide, ultimately and finally, all cases arising under such Constitution and laws, and for that purpose to bring here for revision, by writ of error, the judgment of a State court, where such questions have arisen, and the right claimed under them denied by the highest judicial tribunal in the State.

The Fugitive Slave Act is fully authorized by the Constitution of the United States.”  [pp. 516-525]

 

Is Nullification Unconstitutional

By Thomas Woods, February 5, 2013

These days we’re seeing a lot of newspaper columns condemning the idea of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws. A common claim is that nullification is “unconstitutional.” I’ve addressed this claim in bits and pieces elsewhere, but I figured I’d write up one post I can use to counter this argument once and for all.

The most common claim, which one hears quite a bit from law professors (this is not meant as a compliment), is that the Supremacy Clause precludes nullification. “Federal law trumps state law” is the (rather inane) way we hear the principle expressed these days.

What the Supremacy Clause actually says is: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land.”

In other words, the standard law-school response deletes the most significant words of the whole clause.  It’s safe to assume that Thomas Jefferson was not unaware of, and did not deny, the Supremacy Clause.  His point was that only the Constitution and laws which shall be made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land.  Citing the Supremacy Clause merely begs the question.  A nullifying state maintains that a given law is not “in pursuance thereof” and therefore that the Supremacy Clause does not apply in the first place.

Such critics are expecting us to believe that the states would have ratified a Constitution with a Supremacy Clause that said, in effect, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, plus any old laws we may choose to pass, whether constitutional or not, shall be the supreme law of the land.”

Hamilton himself explained at New York’s ratifying convention that while on the one hand “acts of the United States … will be absolutely obligatory as to all the proper objects and powers of the general government,” at the same time “the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding.” In Federalist 33, Hamilton noted that the clause “expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution.”

At North Carolina’s ratifying convention, James Iredell told the delegates that when “Congress passes a law consistent with the Constitution, it is to be binding on the people. If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution.” In December 1787 Roger Sherman observed that an “excellency of the constitution” was that “when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it.”

Another argument against the constitutionality of nullification is that the Constitution nowhere mentions it.

This is an odd complaint, coming as it usually does from those who in any other circumstance do not seem especially concerned to find express constitutional sanction for particular government policies.

The mere fact that a state’s reserved right to obstruct the enforcement of an unconstitutional law is not expressly stated in the Constitution does not mean the right does not exist.  The Constitution is supposed to establish a federal government of enumerated powers, with the remainder reserved to the states or the people.  Essentially nothing the states do is authorized in the federal Constitution, since enumerating the states’ powers is not the purpose of and is alien to the structure of that document.

James Madison urged that the true meaning of the Constitution was to be found in the state ratifying conventions, for it was there that the people, assembled in convention, were instructed with regard to what the new document meant.  Jefferson spoke likewise: should you wish to know the meaning of the Constitution, consult the words of its friends.

Federalist supporters of the Constitution at the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788 assured Virginians that they would be “exonerated” should the federal government attempt to impose “any supplementary condition” upon them – in other words, if it tried to exercise a power over and above the ones the states had delegated to it. Virginians were given this interpretation of the Constitution by members of the five-man commission that was to draft Virginia’s ratification instrument.  Patrick Henry, John Taylor, and later Jefferson himself elaborated on these safeguards that Virginians had been assured of at their ratifying convention.

Nullification derives from the (surely correct) “compact theory” of the Union, to which no full-fledged alternative appears to have been offered until as late as the 1830s. That compact theory, in turn, derives from and implies the following:

1) The states preceded the Union.  The Declaration of Independence speaks of “free and independent states” (and by “states” it means places like Spain and France) that “have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.” The British acknowledged the independence not of a single blob, but of a group of states, which they proceeded to list one by one.

The states performed activities that we associate with sovereignty. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina outfitted ships to cruise against the British. It was the troops of Connecticut that took Ticonderoga. In New Hampshire, the executive was authorized to issue letters of marque and reprisal. In 1776 it was declared that the crime of treason would be thought of as being perpetrated not against the states united into an indivisible blob, but against the states individually.

Article II of the Articles of Confederation says the states “retain their sovereignty, freedom, and independence”; they must have enjoyed that sovereignty in the past in order for them to “retain” it in 1781 when the Articles were officially adopted.  The ratification of the Constitution was accomplished not by a single, national vote, but by the individual ratifications of the various states, each assembled in convention.

2) In the American system no government is sovereign, not the federal government and not the states.  The peoples of the states are the sovereigns.  It is they who apportion powers between themselves, their state governments, and the federal government.  In doing so they are not impairing their sovereignty in any way. To the contrary, they are exercising it.

3) Since the peoples of the states are the sovereigns, then when the federal government exercises a power of dubious constitutionality on a matter of great importance, it is they themselves who are the proper disputants, as they review whether their agent was intended to hold such a power.  No other arrangement makes sense.  No one asks his agent whether the agent has or should have such-and-such power.  In other words, the very nature of sovereignty, and of the American system itself, is such that the sovereigns must retain the power to restrain the agent they themselves created.  James Madison explains this clearly in the famous Virginia Report of 1800:

The resolution [of 1798] of the General Assembly [of Virginia] relates to those great and extraordinary cases, in which all the forms of the Constitution may prove ineffectual against infractions dangerous to the essential right of the parties to it. The resolution supposes that dangerous powers not delegated, may not only be usurped and executed by the other departments, but that the Judicial Department also may exercise or sanction dangerous powers beyond the grant of the Constitution; and consequently that the ultimate right of the parties to the Constitution, to judge whether the compact has been dangerously violated, must extend to violations by one delegated authority, as well as by another, by the judiciary, as well as by the executive, or the legislature.

In other words, the courts have their role, but in “great and extraordinary cases” it would be absurd for the states, the fundamental building blocks of the United States, not to be able to defend themselves against the exercise of usurped power. The logic of sovereignty and the American Union demand it.

And as for “but Madison later claimed he never supported nullification!” see my article: “Nullification: Answering the Objections,” by Tom Woods, Liberty Classroom [http://www.libertyclassroom.com/objections/ ] and/or pages 288-290 of my book Nullification.

What It Means to be Sovereign

Declaration of Independence - with Jefferson statue   by Diane Rufino

Government in the United States includes the understanding of three terms: Self-government, sovereignty, and social compact. Sovereignty is the inherent and independent right to do all that is necessary to govern oneself.  In the United States, the People are sovereign. In fact, only the Individual is truly sovereign because only the people, and not government, have inherent rights to Life, Liberty, and Property which they also have the right to protect and preserve. In the United States, we enjoy self-government; that is, government originates from the people, for the people – “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Government arises out of social compact. In other words, because Man is a social creature, he forms together into communities. And in order that communities run smoothly and common services be provided to protect everyone’s rights and property, governments are instituted.  And so, individuals delegate some of their sovereign power of self-defense and self-preservation to a government. That is why the bulk of government is always supposed to be closest to the individual, where it is most responsible and most accountable. Our rights and liberties are most protected when people have the frequent opportunity to see their elected officials and look them in the eye and when those officials see a personal story behind acts of legislation, etc.

This is exactly what our Declaration of Independence tells us about our Individual Sovereignty. In the first paragraph, we are told that our sovereignty is based on Natural Law and God’s Law – “to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”  The only rightful power our government has is the power that the People – by the consent of the governed and according to the precise language and intent of our Constitution – have temporarily delegated to it.  In that grant of power, in a system based on the Sovereignty of the Individual, there is always a mechanism to that power back. That is why the Declaration explicitly states that the People have the right to “alter or abolish” their government (when it become destructive of its aims). In fact, that right is so important and so fundamental, it is listed with the other inherent rights that individuals possess. In other words, what the Declaration is saying is that the People of the “united States” have the right to reclaim the sovereign power that they temporarily delegated to that government to govern and protect their liberties.

Again, this is because our system was premised on the Sovereignty of the Individual.

If, on the other hand, in that grant of power there is no longer a mechanism to take it back, then the People are no longer sovereign. If the government tells us that we don’t have the right, or the power, to take it back, then we have already lost our freedom and our system of government is no longer based on the sovereignty of the individual.

In 1868, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no right to secession. (Texas v. White). It concluded that when the Constitution was signed, a permanent, perpetual Union was created.  (However, Justice Salmon Chase did acknowledge that secession might be permitted if ALL states decided together to dissolve the Constitution and the Union or if the people revolted…  In other words, only if people are willing to lay down their lives might they be permitted to wrestle sovereign power from the government).  In a letter he wrote in 2006, Justice Scalia also opined that there is no right of secession. And in 1958, the Supreme Court ruled that States have no right to try to remind the federal government of its constitutional limits and to prevent its encroachments upon the rights of the people through nullification efforts (Cooper v. Aaron).

So, next time you hear people profess the opinion that the Supreme Court has given the final word on efforts to reclaim sovereign power, ask yourself: “Are they on the side of Liberty or Tyranny” ?

Nullification is an ESSENTIAL first step in reclaiming power that the government has unilaterally and inappropriately usurped from us!

NULLIFICATION: The Truths and the Fallacies

Nullify Now - North Carolina (Thomas Jefferson quote)    by Diane Rufino

PART I:  Nullification is the Rightful Remedy to Limit the Federal Government to its Constitutional Objects

Nullification is the theory that says that actions of the federal government that are passed, imposed, or exercised in excess or abuse of the express authority granted in the Constitution are not enforceable. If there is no proper foundation for the action, then that action is null and void and a state has the right, in fact the duty, to refuse to enforce it on its people. Nullification is an essential principle to ensure that the People are insulated from federal tyranny.

Nullification is a legal theory rooted firmly in constitutional history and based on the very limitations articulated in the US Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment and Article VI, Section 2 (“Supremacy Clause”). It is based on the federal nature of our government (separation of powers; “dual and competing sovereigns”), on the Supremacy Clause (only those laws made “in pursuance to the Constitution” are supreme and therefore trump state law), and most strongly, on the compact nature of the Constitution (the states formed the Constitution as a compact, agreeing to delegate some of their sovereign power – certain specified powers – to the federal government and reserving all other powers to themselves. Each state, as a party to the compact, has a “right to judge for itself” the extent of the federal government’s powers).  The compact – the social compact – that the states signed in forming the Union in 1789, is similar to contract law. Contracts, as we all know, outline the obligations and benefits to each of the signing parties. The parties are likewise bound by the express language of the contract. We understand this theory and this issue of contract construction as we all have signed contracts. If one party attempts to change the terms or exceed authority under the contract, the other party can either chose to ignore the perverted exercise of contract power or can break the contract altogether.

The fundamental basis for government and law in this country, as in most societies, is the concept of the social compact (or social contract). Social compact is an extension of Natural Law (upon which our Declaration is based) which states that human beings begin as individuals in a state of nature and then organize into societies for mutual benefit. They create a society by establishing a contract whereby they agree to live together in harmony for their mutual benefit, after which they are said to live in a state of society. This contract involves the retaining of certain natural rights, an acceptance of restrictions of certain liberties, the assumption of certain duties, and the pooling of certain powers to be exercised collectively. James Madison confirmed the nature of the US Constitution as a social compact in Federalist No. 39.

The key features of a social compact are: (i) retention of natural rights; (ii) common defense of those rights; and (iii) limitation of government power.

Now, it is true that the compact assures that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance to it (Article VI) shall be valued as the supreme law of the land, but the converse is equally true. All power not expressly granted is reserved by the States and on those objects, state law is supreme law. This is our system of dual sovereignty. That is the brilliant design feature of our American government system which our Founders believed would ensure the protection of our God-given rights. But unfortunately, our Founders thought the government could be trusted to respect its boundaries, to protect that “precious jewel” that is liberty. They believed that if the branches of government were “advised” that their particular actions were unconstitutional, they would quickly remedy the situation and undo what they had done.

Hah, fat chance that was going to happen. It was only a few years into the operation of the federal government when it attempted, successfully too, to enlarge its powers and redefine the terms of the Constitution. And that’s when our most important Founders – Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – had to remind state leaders why we fought the Revolutionary War in the first place and what their fears had been when considering ratifying the Constitution. That’s when Jeffersonian Nullification was born. It was born out of the notion that the federal government must not be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation, for if it has the unchecked power to judge the extent of its own powers, it will continue to grow and encroach on the rights and liberties of the People and the States.

In his written assurances to the States that the Constitution was delegating only limited powers from them to a federal government, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78: “Every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

In order that the States (and the People) be completely assured of what precise objects that their sovereign power was being delegated to the government for, James Madison explained it in the clearest of terms in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

      The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.”    

In Federalist No. 26, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if anything improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.”

And with this duty to protect its citizens against encroachments from the federal government – to be both their VOICE and their ARM of discontent – we see the seeds that were sown for Nullification and Interposition (the duty to intercede and prevent the usurpation and “arrest the evil”).

Our Founders understood the nature of power….  Power can only be checked by power.

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, which questioned the constitutionality of the Alien & Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

If those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by the federal compact (ie, the US Constitution), but a total disregard to the special delegations of powers therein contained, an annihilation of the state governments, and the creation, upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction, contended by the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism – since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers. That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the RIGHTFUL REMEDY:  That this commonwealth does, under the most deliberate reconsideration, declare that the said Alien and Sedition laws are, in their opinion, palpable violations of the Constitution…

In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, also addressing the unconstitutionality of the Acts, James Madison wrote:

That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states (alone) are the parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants (of power) enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are duty-bound, to INTERPOSE for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them…

       That the General Assembly expresses its deep regret that a spirit has been manifested by the federal government to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of powers in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains, and limits the general phrases; and so as to consolidate the states, by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United states into an absolute, or at best, a mixed monarchy..

Historians and constitutionalists explain the Jeffersonian theory of Nullification in a way that is slightly misleading. They teach us that constitutional theory allows a state the right (and perhaps even the duty) to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has determined to be outside the powers delegated to the government under the Constitution. In other words, they say, a state has the right to determine when a federal law is unconstitutional and therefore decide not to enforce it.

Nullification is actually simpler than that. We live in a country founded on the notion of Individual Sovereignty – that man is supreme and government flows from the sovereign rights and powers of the individual. In our free society, founded on the supremacy of individual rights, constitutions were drafted to list those powers that the people agreed to delegate to their government for the protection of their rights and the orderly management of their communities. The US Constitution was no different. All other powers were retained by the People. Laws are only enforceable in such a constitutional republic when there is express authority granted by the People to do so. Consequently, when the federal government passes a law that exceeds or abuses power delegated in the Constitution, that law is AUTOMATICALLY  NULL and VOID.  It is automatically unenforceable on a free people. Judges are SUPPOSED to declare it void (to put that official check on the legislative branch and force them to repeal the law), but even if they don’t, the law is already null and void.  The federal judiciary was originally intended to be a “check” and was supposed to “advise” only. It was intended to be the weakest of all branches.

So, under the doctrine of Nullification, the states don’t really declare laws to be null and void.  Rather, they recognize that certain laws are null and void. Then they exercise their duty to maintain the integrity of our free society by refusing to enforce any unconstitutional law on their citizens.

PART 2:  Nullification is a Constitutional Principle, Exercised by our Founding Generations

There is no easier way for tyranny to take hold than for a People to remain silent when they know, or should know, what their rights are. There is no easier way for a government to usurp the natural rights of a People to govern themselves than to stand by and let that government legislate when it has no authority to do so.

The early colonists certainly didn’t miss an opportunity to stand up for their rights. In fact, the Sons of Liberty formed (much like today’s Tea Party and Tenth Amendment Center) to point out where Britain was violating their rights and to help organize opposition and protest. Samuel Adams, the leader of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, wrote the following in 1769 with these words:

DEARLY BELOVED,

REVOLVING time hath brought about another anniversary of the repeal of the odious Stamp Act,—an act framed to divest us of our liberties and to bring us to slavery, poverty, and misery. The resolute stand made by the Sons of Liberty against the detestable policy had more effect in bringing on the repeal than any conviction in the Parliament of Great Britain of the injustice and iniquity of the act . It was repealed from principles of convenience to Old England, and accompanied with a declaration of their right to tax us; and since, the same Parliament have passed acts which, if obeyed in the Colonies, will be equally fatal. Although the people of Great Britain be only fellow-subjects, they have of late assumed a power to compel us to buy at their market such things as we want of European produce and manufacture; and, at the same time, have taxed many of the articles for the express purpose of a revenue; and, for the collection of the duties, have sent fleets, armies, commissioners, guard acostas, judges of admiralty, and a host of petty officers, whose insolence and rapacity are become intolerable. Our cities are garrisoned; the peace and order which heretofore dignified our streets are exchanged for the horrid blasphemies and outrages of soldiers; our trade is obstructed ; our vessels and cargoes, the effects of industry, violently seized; and, in a word, every species of injustice that a wicked and debauched Ministry could invent is now practiced against the most sober, industrious, and loyal people that ever lived in society. The joint supplications of all the Colonies have been rejected; and letters and mandates, in terms of the highest affront and indignity, have been transmitted from little and insignificant servants of the Crown to his Majesty’s grand and august sovereignties in America.

These things being so, it becomes us, my brethren, to walk worthy of our vocation, to use every lawful mean to frustrate the wicked designs of our enemies at home and abroad, and to unite against the evil and pernicious machinations of those who would destroy us.”

Son of Liberty

From a small, secret group of agitators in Boston and in Connecticut, the Sons of Liberty grew to the point that there was a group in every one of the thirteen colonies. They organized demonstrations, circulated petitions, published newspaper articles, distributed flyers and handbills, and in general did all they could to bring the message of liberty to the colonists. But it was their simple acts of civil disobedience – like protesting a tax on tea by dumping 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor, protesting the tax on documents (Stamp Act) by forcing officials to the Crown to resign or to refrain from unloading ships from Britain, or forming angry mobs in response to the Quartering Act – which prevented the enforcement of some of the acts of Parliament that the colonists found intolerable. It was when the King responded with further punitive and oppressive measures – which Jefferson would refer to as “abuses and usurpations” – it was clear the colonies would have to declare their independence in order to remain free.

By frustrating the enforcement of the Stamp Act and the other intolerable, the Sons of Liberty exercised their early right of nullification. They recognized that the British Parliament had no right to legislate for them when they were not provided representation, as guaranteed in their English Bill of Rights of 1689. Any piece of legislation that is passed without proper authority is automatically null and void and cannot be rightfully enforced. This is the basis of the doctrine of Nullification. The Sons of Liberty stood up for this principle and energized the colonists to stand up for their rights and especially their right NOT TO SUBMIT to laws that were not properly passed in accordance with their government charters.

Nullification, as you can see, is an important check and balance on the power of the federal government, which seeks, at every turn, to enlarge and concentrate its powers and to pervert the meaning and intent of the Constitution. There has been no greater enemy than the federal courts which now openly, flagrantly, and arrogantly declare that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” that is to be re-interpreted willy nilly and as they, the judges, believe will best reflect and serve the social norms of the day.

In fact, Nullification is probably the most important check and balance of them all. Dual and co-equal sovereigns, each jealously guarding their respective sphere of power, will maintain that delicate balance of power that our Founding Fathers designed and which the States themselves agreed to. It’s the same way that two skilled attorneys, adversarial in nature (the prosecution and the defense) will aggressively provide that justice is served. And it’s the same way that two political parties, one to the left in its ideology and the other to the right, will ultimately assure that policy remains somewhat in the middle so that our society is tolerable for everyone.

In Federalist No. 33, Alexander Hamilton asked and answered an important question: “If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”  Hamilton doesn’t limit the measures that people can use to redress the situation when government oversteps the bounds of its authority.  According to Hamilton, the remedy should be in proportion to the violation. If we are to take Hamilton at his word for the government’s taxing power, we should, with the same enthusiasm, take him at his word for the ability to push the government back within the bound of the Constitution.

Referring to the title of this article, the truth is that Nullification is a valid constitutional doctrine reserved “in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact (US Constitution).”  James Madison, Virginia Resolutions of 1798. The states, who wrote, debated, amended (Bill of Rights), and ratified the Constitution to create the federal government are the rightful parties who have the authority, and are indeed “duty-bound, to interpose (intercede) for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.”  Virginia Resolutions of 1798.  The truth is that Nullification, while not under that express term, was an important principle and an important tool to prevent abusive and unconstitutional laws from being enforced on the colonists/colonies and then on the citizens of the various “united” States and the states themselves when the US Constitution was adopted. The fallacy is that the Constitution itself, through the Supremacy Clause, renders Nullification an illegitimate remedy. Thefallacy is that the Supreme Court, as the ultimate authority on the intent and meaning of the Constitution, has rejected the doctrine. The fallacy is that Nullification was the favored state remedy of slavery proponents and white supremists. And the fallacy is that the Civil War distinguished rightful remedies to limit government power.

Part 3:  Opponents of Nullification Attempt to Discredit our Founding Principles With Various False Criticisms

            A.  The Misrepresentation of the Supremacy Clause and Proper Constitutional Bounds 

Critics are quick to say that the theory of nullification has never been legally upheld and in fact, the Supreme Court expressly rejected it – in Ableman v. Booth, 1959, and Cooper v. Aaron, 1958. They say that the courts have spoken on the subject and have held that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, the critics conclude, that the power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the states, and the states do not have the power to nullify federal laws but rather, are duty-bound to obey them.

The fatal flaw in their arguments, however, is that they believe that the judiciary, a branch of the same federal government that tends to overstep their constitutional bounds, is somehow above the law and not subject to the remedy of Nullification as the other branches are. As will be discussed later, the federal judiciary was the first branch to enlarge its powers, in the case of Marbury v. Madison.

Another fatal flaw in their argument is that somehow, the Supremacy Clause is a rubber stamp that labels every federal law, every federal court decision, and every federal action “supreme.” They, and especially the justices of the Supreme Court, refer to the Supremacy Clause as if it were the Midas Touch – a magical power that turns EVERYTHING the federal government does, including by all three branches, to gold. Nothing is farther than the truth. The Supremacy Clause states simply: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; …shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”  The is no debate that the Constitution, as originally drafted and defended, and as intended and ratified, designed a government of limited powers. Therefore it follows that only laws passed to legislate for the limited functions listed in the Constitution are supreme. Regarding objects and designs not expressly listed in the Constitution, the Ninth and Tenth Amendment remind us that they are reserved to the People or the States, respectively, and the federal government can claim no such supremacy. The Supremacy Clause states a preemptive doctrine that asserts sovereignty just as equally as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments assert sovereignty.

Hamilton continued in Federalist No. 33: “It is said that the laws of the Union are to be the supreme law of the land. But what inference can be drawn from this, or what would they amount to, if they were not to be supreme? It is evident they would amount to nothing. A law, by the very meaning of the term, includes supremacy. It is a rule which those to whom it is prescribed are bound to observe. This results from every political association. If individuals enter into a state of society, the laws of that society must be the supreme regulator of their conduct. If a number of political societies enter into a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact, pursuant to the powers entrusted to it by its constitution, must necessarily be supreme over those societies, and the individuals of whom they are composed. But it will not follow from this doctrine that acts of the large society which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers, but which are invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies, will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such. Hence we perceive that the clause which declares the supremacy of the laws of the Union, like the one we have just before considered, only declares a truth, which flows immediately and necessarily from the institution of a federal government. It will not, I presume, have escaped observation, that it expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution; which I mention merely as an instance of caution in the convention; since that limitation would have been to be understood, though it had not been expressed.

Critics also like to discredit Nullification by associating it with the more controversial episodes in our history.  A popular claim is that Nullification was used to perpetuate slavery because it was embraced by Southern leaders who did not want blacks to take their place as free and equal men in their societies. They especially link Nullification to South Carolina’s colorful Senator John C. Calhoun who was not only a vocal proponent of the doctrine and used it to justify his state’s refusal to recognize the Tariff of Abominations in 1832, but he was a strong supporter of slavery and a white supremist. They like to say that Nullification led to the tariff crisis (or Nullification Crisis of 1832) pitting the South against the North and eventually precipitating the Civil War. They allege that the Civil War settled the question of Nullification.

There are so many flaws in these arguments.

Between 1798 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, several states threatened or attempted nullification of various federal laws, including the Tariff of 1828, the Tariff of 1832, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and even the 1854 ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court which held that Wisconsin didn’t have to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act. None of these efforts were legally upheld, although all were successful in providing the relief they sought.

In the late 1820′s, the nation suffered an economic downturn, with South Carolina being hit especially hard. The government enacted high protective tariffs (high tariffs on imports, particularly finished goods). The North, industrial as it was, manufactured finished goods but needed raw materials (such as cotton, sugar, etc) while the South, an agrarian society, purchased almost all finished products from imports. It also made most of its money from its export of cotton, tobacco, and sugar. The tariff, as the South viewed it, harmed the South while at the same time providing an enormous benefit to the North. With the higher prices on imported finished goods, it had the effect of “protecting” the products of the North. In other words, the finished goods of the North would be preferred over imports because of the price. The South would be forced to buy products from the North, thus enriching the North. On the other hand, because of the United States’ high protective tariffs, other countries retaliated by imposing high tariffs on American imports, which greatly harmed the South. To compete, the South had to lower her prices. Like a vulture, the Northern industries noticed that Southern cotton, sugar, etc weren’t selling and took advantage of the fact that they could buy her goods at reduced prices. South Carolina was opposed most vehemently to the protective tariffs. South Carolina believed that a “common government” should serve both regions equally and in this case, it was harming the South in order to enrich the North. South Carolina alleged that the tariffs were extremely detrimental to her well-being.

In the summer of 1828, South Carolina state representative Robert Barnwell Rhett appealed to the governor and to his constituents to resist the majority in Congress regarding the high tariff (referred to as the “Tariff of Abominations”). Rhett emphasized the danger of doing nothing:

But if you are doubtful of yourselves – if you are not prepared to follow up your principles wherever they may lead, to their very last consequence – if you love life better than honor,…. prefer ease to perilous liberty and glory, then awake not!  Stir not!  Impotent resistance will add vengeance to your ruin. Live in smiling peace with your insatiable Oppressors, and die with the noble consolation that your submissive patience will survive triumphant your beggary and despair.”

Also in 1828, John Calhoun published his “Exposition and Protest,” although anonymously, in which he discussed Nullification. (He was Andrew Jackson’s Vice President at the time and Jackson was strongly opposed to Nullification):

If it be conceded, as it must be by everyone who is the least conversant with our institutions, that the sovereign powers delegated are divided between the General and State Governments, and that the latter hold their portion by the same tenure as the former, it would seem impossible to deny to the States the right of deciding on the infractions of their powers, and the proper remedy to be applied for their correction. The right of judging, in such cases, is an essential attribute of sovereignty, of which the States cannot be divested without losing their sovereignty itself, and being reduced to a subordinate corporate condition. In fact, to divide power, and to give to one of the parties the exclusive right of judging of the portion allotted to each, is, in reality, not to divide it at all; and to reserve such exclusive right to the General Government (it matters not by what department to be exercised), is to convert it, in fact, into a great consolidated government, with unlimited powers, and to divest the States, in reality, of all their rights. It is impossible to understand the force of terms, and to deny so plain a conclusion.”

In 1832, inspired by Calhoun’s defense of Nullification as the rightful remedy to not suffer unconstitutional federal legislation (he strongly supported and promoted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively), South Carolina decided to use the doctrine to escape the oppression of the tariff.  Its position was that Nullification could be used by a state to resist a federal law that was not specifically authorized by the U.S. Constitution.  South Carolina then assembled a democratically-elected convention and issued an Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of South Carolina.

The Ordinance of Nullification read:

Whereas the Congress of the United States by various acts, purporting to be acts laying duties and imposts on foreign imports, but in reality intended for the protection of domestic manufactures and the giving of bounties to classes and individuals engaged in particular employments, at the expense and to the injury and oppression of other classes and individuals, and by wholly exempting from taxation certain foreign commodities, such as are not produced or manufactured in the United States, to afford a pretext for imposing higher and excessive duties on articles similar to those intended to be protected, bath exceeded its just powers under the constitution, which confers on it no authority to afford such protection, and bath violated the true meaning and intent of the constitution, which provides for equality in imposing the burdens of taxation upon the several States and portions of the confederacy: And whereas the said Congress, exceeding its just power to impose taxes and collect revenue for the purpose of effecting and accomplishing the specific objects and purposes which the constitution of the United States authorizes it to effect and accomplish, hath raised and collected unnecessary revenue for objects unauthorized by the constitution.

      We, therefore, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities, and now having actual operation and effect within the United States, and, more especially, an act entitled “An act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on the nineteenth day of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight and also an act entitled “An act to alter and amend the several acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on the fourteenth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, are unauthorized by the constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens; and all promises, contracts, and obligations, made or entered into, or to be made or entered into, with purpose to secure the duties imposed by said acts, and all judicial proceedings which shall be hereafter had in affirmance thereof, are and shall be held utterly null and void.”

The Ordinance of Nullification was not received well and soon escalated to what came to be referred to as the Nullification of 1832. Andrew Jackson was inflamed and was intent on arresting Calhoun and having him hang in Washington DC. He also had Congress pass the Force Bill which authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts. It was feared that South Carolina would secede if pushed, and so, the members of the US Senate and then House came together to work out a solution. In 1833, Senator Henry Clay and Senator Calhoun proposed a compromise bill to resolve the Crisis. The Tariff of 1833 (also known as the Compromise Tariff of 1833), would gradually reduce the tariff rates over a 10-year period to the levels set in the Tariff of 1816 – an average of 20% lower.  The compromise bill was accepted by South Carolina and passed the US Congress and thus effectively ended the Nullification Crisis.  South Carolina got the relief it sought.

As a side note, Abraham Lincoln, who ran on the Republican Platform for president in the election of 1860, was originally a Whig and was still a Whig at heart. He was a true follower of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  As such, he was a strong supporter of protective tariffs and promised to raise the tariff to the 1828 rate. Is it any wonder why tensions in the South were elevated with the election of Lincoln?

            B.  The Misrepresentation of Nullification with respect to Slavery

One of the biggest criticisms is that that Nullification was asserted for the purpose of perpetuating slavery. The record, however, is absolutely clear on this issue. Frustration of the federal Fugitive Slave Law was accomplished by nullification efforts all over the North and because of the success of those efforts, slaves were encouraged to seek their freedom and the movement to end slavery was able to gain momentum.

Although the concepts of States’ Rights and Nullification are historically associated with the South, they were employed by northern states to resist the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. While the southern states defied the federal government by refusing to accept the abominable tariffs, the northern states defied the government by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, which they believed was an unconstitutional commandeering of the state and at its core, a repugnant law that offended their conscience. Under this law, stringent measures were imposed to catch runaway slaves. These included:

  • Penalizing federal officials that did not enforce the law
  • Rewarding federal officials that did enforce law
  • Requiring free citizens to help capture runaway slaves
  • Fining or imprisoning citizens helping runaways escape
  • Prohibiting runaways from testifying on their own behalf in court
  • Denying jury trials to runaways

Special federal commissions, not courts, worked with U.S. marshals to handle runaway cases. Commissioners and marshals who failed to hold captured runaways could be sued, thus compelling them to enforce the law. They received $10 for every runaway delivered to a claimant, but only $5 for cases in which the runaway was freed. This provided a financial incentive to send even free black men and women into slavery. The law not only jeopardized the liberty of every black citizen, but it also infringed on the freedom of white citizens by forcing them to hunt for runaways against their will.

State and local governments openly defied the law:

1).  The legislatures of Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Wisconsin passed “personal liberty laws” making it nearly impossible to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in those states.

2).  The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared that the Tenth Amendment protected states from repugnant federal laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, specifically citing the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 as the basis for its opinion.

3).  The Chicago City Council called northern congressmen who supported the act “traitors” like “Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot.”

4).  When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not free federal prisoners convicted of helping runaways, the Wisconsin legislature called “this assumption of jurisdiction by the federal judiciary… an act of undelegated power, void, and of no force…”  (The Wisconsin Supreme Court nullified the Supreme Court’s decision.  See discussion below)

In addition to local governments, the people themselves took matters into their own hands:

1).  In Syracuse, New York, in 1851 a jury effectively nullified the law by acquitting all but one of 26 people who had been arrested for freeing William “Jerry” Henry. Among those 26 persons arrested and tried was a US Senator and the former Governor of NY.  Jerry ultimately escaped to Canada.

2).  When Joshua Glover was captured by U.S. marshals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the sheriff supported local opinion by freeing Glover and jailing the marshals; Glover also escaped to Canada.

3).  In Pennsylvania, a mob of free blacks killed a slaveholder attempting to capture a runaway.

4).  Military force was needed to disperse a mass meeting after a black man was apprehended in Detroit.

5).  Throughout Ohio, town meetings branded any northern official who helped enforce the law “an enemy of the human race.”

6).  Other cities and states refused to help enforce the law simply because it was too expensive. Returning one runaway to the South cost the city of Boston $5,000. Boston officials never enforced the law again. All of these acts of defiance and nullification were ironically adopted from principles first introduced and later invoked by southerners.

When Wisconsin residents refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and return escaped slave, Glover, an ensuing series of arrests would give the state Supreme Court the opportunity to use Nullification to proclaim the law’s unconstitutionality. The case would be known as In re Booth.

What has become known as the Booth case is actually a series of decisions from the Wisconsin Supreme Court beginning in 1854 and one from the U.S. Supreme Court,Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 514 (1859), leading to a final published decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, 11 Wis. 501 (1859). These decisions reflect Wisconsin’s attempted nullification of the federal fugitive slave law, the expansion of the state’s rights movement and Wisconsin’s defiance of federal judicial authority. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in Booth unanimously declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision but the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to file the U.S. Court’s mandate upholding the fugitive slave law. That mandate has never been filed.

When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, slavery existed in this country. Article IV, Section 2 provided that:  ”No person held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Based on this provision, Congress in 1793 passed a law that gave slave owners the power to have a runaway slave arrested in any state and returned.  The law remained intact until 1850, by which time the moral sentiment of the North against slavery had become aroused; the Liberty Party had been organized, the underground railroad had flourished and many northern men and women refused to act as slave catchers or assist in perpetuating slavery. Because of the increasing difficulty the slave holders faced in reclaiming runaway slaves, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The law placed the mechanism for capturing runaway slaves in the hands of federal officers. It provided that these cases would be heard by a federal judge or court commissioner and allowed the slave owner to prove the debt owed by the slave but precluded testimony from the fugitive entirely. The new law also increased the penalties for resistance and for concealment of fugitives.

Although it was intended as a compromise, the new law actually fueled the flames of anti-slavery sentiment and from 1854 to 1861, Wisconsin politics was dominated by the question of whether the state had to defer to the federal government’s efforts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

In the spring of 1852, a slave named Joshua Glover escaped from a Missouri plantation and made his way to Racine, where he found work at a sawmill. Two years later, his owner tracked him down and had him apprehended by federal marshals under the Fugitive Slave Act. Glover was held in the Milwaukee County Jail pending a hearing.  When Sherman M. Booth, editor of the Milwaukee abolitionist newspaper, The Free Democrat, heard of the capture, he is said to have mounted his horse and galloped through the streets of Milwaukee shouting: “Freemen! To the rescue! Slave catchers are in our midst! Be at the courthouse at 2:00!” Booth’s lawyers then persuaded a Milwaukee County Court judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus (a judicial order freeing Booth) directing the U.S. marshal to bring Glover before the county judge and justify his detention

Before the hearing could take place, Booth appointed a committee to prevent the “kidnapping” of Glover by the federal authorities. After Booth made a fiery speech, a mob led by one of the other committeemen, John Ryecraft, battered down the jail doors, freed Glover and spirited him away to Canada.  Federal authorities charged Booth with assisting Glover’s escape. Booth was released on bail but two months later, at his own request, he was delivered to the U.S. Marshal. Booth’s surrender was calculated to bring a test case in the state courts challenging the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. On the day after the surrender, Booth’s attorney, Byron Paine (later a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court), successfully applied to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abram D. Smith for a writ of habeas corpus. At that hearing, Smith asked the parties to address the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. Paine, citing Thomas Jefferson’s writings, said states have the right to impose their authority when their sovereign rights are violated by the federal government. Paine argued that Congress had no authority to make laws based on the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution and that the Act of 1850 was unconstitutional because it denied a trial by jury and vested judicial powers in court commissioners. On June 7, 1854, Smith ordered that Booth be released, finding the warrant of commitment defective and the fugitive slave law unconstitutional.

When the US Attorney General learned of the decision, he appealed it to the US Supreme Court. The case –  Ableman v. Booth – was heard in 1859, just one year before slavery would a major issue of the presidential election.  In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Law and further held that Wisconsin did not have the power to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act.  In a decision written by Justice Roger Taney (who also wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision): “No power is more clearly conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States than the power of this court to decide, ultimately and finally, all cases arising under such Constitution and laws.” [pg. 62]

The justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court justices were then instructed to file the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandates reversing the judgments and dismissals in the Booth case. Although there had been some changes to the bench in the years since the case was heard, the majority opinion was that the federal court had no power to review the judgments of the state Supreme Court and Wisconsin was well within its right to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law, and so the justices voted not to file the mandates in the Booth cases. The Wisconsin Supreme Court would write: “The Supreme Court said that the States cannot, therefore, be compelled to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. We regard the action of the Supreme Court of the US, in assuming jurisdiction in the case before mentioned, as an arbitrary act of power, unauthorized by the Constitution. This assumption of jurisdiction by the federal judiciary is an act of undelegated power, and therefore without authority, void, and of no force.”

[Booth was subsequently arrested by federal agents and placed in a state penitentiary. Since Wisconsin did not assert its duty to interpose and prevent federal agents from such conduct, Booth remained in custody. But only a few short months later, on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration, President Buchanan would pardon him].

Wisconsin successfully nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in its state.  It did not back down. It did not reverse the judgment on Booth, as the US Supreme Court instructed. Although the Civil War would start in less than two years and the affections that bound North and South together would be strained, the state of Wisconsin maintained its position on the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law and held to its conviction that it was unenforceable in its borders.

Contrary to the critics’ position that Nullification was used to promote and support slavery, the only real time we saw it used with regard to slavery is in an effort to discourage enforcement of laws to return slaves that have successfully escaped and to therefore encourage their escape to the north.

The critics of Nullification go even further and try to discredit Nullification by blaming it, for example, for Arkansas’ refusal to integrate their schools following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1953 which demanded that school segregation be ended immediately.  Martin Luther King Jr. himself vilified Nullification in his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington DC in 1963.  He said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.  I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

To condemn Nullification for one bad application would require that we also condemn the Supreme Court because of its Dred Scott decision.  Besides, there are many constitutional scholars who don’t wonder if the Brown decision was decided using an interpretation that itself was unconstitutional. While it should be universally agreed that purposeful segregation of the races based on the assumption that blacks are an inferior race had to end. It was a shameful policy that has rocked our moral conscience as a nation. But, to use the very same criteria (race), especially as in the bussing cases, to remedy for the past sins of segregation has been challenged as an unconstitutional exercise of judicial power. A violation of the 14th Amendment is a violation of the 14th Amendment, whether it’s used for bad or for good.

C.  Misrepresentation because of Political Correctness  

There is nothing more harmful to liberty and nothing more harmful in a free society than to shut down ideas and avenues of redress under the pretext that it “is offensive” to certain groups of people. Certainly, one of the oldest tricks in the book is the one whereby supporters of a centralized energetic government demonize the message that empowers its people. And that’s what has happened with Nullification and the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. used the words Nullification and Interposition for effect and to elicit passions that evoke memories of slavery and efforts by the South to deny them Civil Rights. Had he been honest, he would have also praised Nullification for providing the North with the reason not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws and condemning runaway slaves to a life of continued forced servitude as nothing more than personal property.

It was Arkansas’ actions in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that led to the Cooper v. Aaron case and appeared to give Nullification opponents ammunition. In the wake of the Brown case, the school district of Little Rock, Arkansas formulated a plan to desegregate its schools but most other school districts in the state opposed the Supreme Court’s rulings and attempted to find ways to perpetuate segregation. As a result, the Arkansas state legislature amended the state constitution to oppose desegregation and then passed a law relieving children from mandatory attendance at integrated schools. The school board of Little Rock, however, ignored then mandate and continued on with the desegregation program. In fact, it was this decision that led to the incident known as the “Little Rock Nine” incident (or the “Little Rock School Crisis of 1957″).  In 1957, the NAACP enrolled nine black children at Little Rock Central High. Arkansas’ Governor Orval Faubus energetically opposed the desegregation plan and even deployed the Arkansas National Guard to block the entrance to the school. On September 9, the Little Rock School District issued a statement condemning the governor’s deployment of soldiers to the school, and on September 24, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Faubus. The crisis was over and the nine students were finally permitted to attend Little Rock Central.

On February 20, 1958, five months after the integration crisis, members of the Arkansas state school board (along with the Superintendent of Schools) filed suit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, urging suspension of Little Rock’s plan of desegregation. They alleged that public hostility to desegregation and that the opposition of Governor Faubus and the state legislature created an intolerable and chaotic situation. The relief the plaintiffs requested was for the black children to be returned to segregated schools and for the implementation of the desegregation plan to be postponed for two and a half years. The case would make its way to the Supreme Court later that same year.

In that case, Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision in Cooper  v. Aaron, noted that although the school board had apparently acted in good faith, it was nonetheless constitutionally impermissible under the Equal Protection Clause to maintain law and order by depriving the black students their equal rights under the law.  It began its analysis by noting that Justice John Marshall, in 1803 in the landmark case of  Marbury v. Madison, declared that “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” The Marbury decision established the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution.  The Cooper opinion then went on to state: “The interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land under Article VI of the Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) which therefore makes it of binding effect on the States.”  Furthermore, the Court reasoned, since every state official takes an oath to support the US Constitution, they are bound to solemnly support the Constitution and such rulings. The Court then rejected the notion that a state has no duty to obey a federal court order that it believes to be unconstitutional.  In other words, the Court rejected nullification and interposition. “In short, the constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ingeniously or ingenuously.”

It is worth noting that the Framers and Founding Fathers never assigned the Supreme Court the responsibility that Justice Marshall assumed for the Court in Marbury v. Madison – that it shall be the sole province of the Supreme Court to declare what the Constitution says and means. It is a power that the Court, a branch of the federal government, assigned and delegated to itself. And that decision has never been challenged, even though the Federalist Papers speak differently of the function of the federal judiciary.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court has no more the right to declare Nullification an improper check and balance on the power of the federal government as it does on the Separation of Powers doctrine or the President’s Veto power.

Some legal scholars have publicly criticized the Court’s rationale in Cooper. Perhaps the most famous criticism comes from former US Attorney General (under Ronald Reagan) and brilliant constitutional attorney, Edwin Meese III, in his law review article entitled The Law of the Constitution. In that article, Meese accused the Supreme Court of taking too much power for itself by setting itself up as the sole institution responsible for the interpretation of the Constitution. He wrote that while judicial interpretation of the Constitution binds the parties of the case, it should not establish a supreme law of the land that must be accepted by all persons.

             D.  Misrepresentation by an Incorrect Assessment of the Civil War  

Perhaps one of the most popular arguments given by the opponents of Nullification is that the Civil War settled the issue.

Of course, this is a preposterous assertion. Core constitutional principles weren’t destroyed, even though President Lincoln did everything in his power to destroy the Constitution itself. Just because a constitutional government was suspended and the proper role of the federal government was temporarily derailed does not mean our system was abandoned. The US Constitution was never rejected and supplanted by another. Our supreme law was merely modified by a few amendments and the southern states were punished (severely) for their audacity in seceding.

Opponents allege that it was the Southern States and their seditious spirit (ie, embracing Nullification) that led to the Civil War. It seems that it never occurred to them to read the Inaugural Address of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, where he talked about their pure allegiance to the spirit of the American Revolution and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

As Thomas Jefferson so aptly explained, the power of Nullification is that it accomplishes peacefully what rebellion would accomplish forcibly..  and that is a rejection of a government that refuses to abide by its constitutional bounds.  Nullification is a gentle nudge, by the States, to put the federal government on notice that it has violated the terms and spirit of the Constitution, and therefore putting the ball back in its court so it can take the proper steps and remedy the situation. That’s why Jefferson, in fact, one of the reasons he termed it the “Rigthful Remedy.”  Nullification doesn’t lead to Secession, it prevents it.  Only when the federal government refuses to abide by the boundaries the people have entrusted it do the People have to consider more extreme measures.

In his book Is Davis a Traitor, Albert Taylor Bledsoe writes: “The subjugation of the Southern States and their acceptance of the terms dictated (forced upon them) by the North in the War of Coercion may be considered as having shifted the Federal Government from the basis of compact to that of conquest, and thereby extinguished every claim to the right of secession for the future.”

Whether one believes we have been conquered by our own government determines what they believe about Nullification and Secession. Whether one believes Bledsoe’s assessment or not speaks volumes about whether that person cherishes liberty.

Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that in America, individual liberty is grounded firmly in Natural Law and God’s law. To secure that foundation, our country adopted the government philosophy of John Locke which says that people have rights preexisting government, government exists to protect those rights, and government should not stand in the way of its own dissolution should it violate those rights. This is the express message of the Declaration.

It’s obvious that in the wake of the Civil War, the nature of government has fundamentally changed and that the relationship between itself and the people has been transformed. But while there are those who accept the notion that with the War of Coercion the government took a stand against the rights of the individual (and won) and who believe we must submit to this new system, the question really boils down to this….  Did the government have the right to coerce the States and the People to fight a war for ITS own preservation and domination?  Did it have the right to subjugate the Southern States against their will?  NO, it did not. Nowhere did the government have the right to act as it did and therefore the consequences are NULL and VOID.

Those who support Nullification still believe in the fundamental truth that people have rights that preexist government and that government exists primarily to protect our rights from those that do not respect them and NOT to control us and coerce us into serving its goals.

As Jefferson Davis indeed predicted, the northern victors would succeed in teaching history which vindicates their efforts and violations. And so, through our public schools, the great majority of books, government opinion, and even the significance of the Lincoln Memorial on the national mall, we are led to believe that Abraham Lincoln was our most important and beloved president. The reality, according to historian Larry Tagg in his book  The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: America’s Most Reviled President, is that he was the most hated of all American presidents during his lifetime. He was so thoroughly hated in the North (especially in New York) that the New York Times editorialized a wish that he would be assassinated. Thomas DiLorenzo, who has done extensive research on Lincoln, said the hatred was perfectly understandable.  Lincoln committed so many constitutional violations that even Congress’ collective head was spinning. The Congressional record is full of discussion as to the extent of his violations. He illegally suspended Habeas Corpus, imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics without due process, and shut down over 300 opposition newspapers. If they still tried to use the mail to distribute news, he called out the army, seized their property, and prevented their access to the US mail. He enforced military conscription with the murder of hundreds of New York City draft protesters in 1863 and with the mass execution of deserters from his army. He deported a congressional critic (Democratic Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio); confiscated firearms; and issued an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Roger Taney) when he issued an opinion that only Congress could legally suspend Habeas Corpus. He blocked southern ports without authorization of Congress (which is far and above the type of action necessary to quash a rebellion; it’s an act of war). Most of all, he waged an unnecessary war, not authorized by Congress, that resulted in the death of 1 in every 4 young men (3.4% of the population at the time; 3.4% of today’s population would be approximately 8.5 million Americans). The real legacy of the Civil War, is Lincoln’s “false virtue” – that he felt justified in trampling all over the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the sovereign rights of the states in order to do what he personally believed was necessary.  To say Lincoln saved the Union by waging the Civil War is like saying a man saved his marriage by beating his wife into submission.

For those who believe that the Civil War settled the question of whether Nullification is a proper remedy, then I ask this: How is it that a constitutional remedy can be destroyed by unconstitutional conduct by the President of the United States and the US Congress?  How the essential principles of self-preservation and self-government proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence be destroyed by the very institution that that document assured would be established to protect those rights?  How can a liberty-minded people buy into this fatal argument that it is OK for the US government, a creature of the People themselves, to take a hostile position with respect to the Declaration of Independence and deny them the promise “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  How is it that a nation so singular in its purpose when it fought the Revolutionary War (to secede from an oppressive government, in order to live free and govern themselves accordingly) has deteriorated to the point that its people can no longer make the essential connection between their Constitution and the principles proclaimed in the Declaration which underlie it?  It was all about liberty and freedom – the condition of independence (liberty) and the right to go about our business without being controlled or subjugated (freedom). In explaining why it was so important for our founding colonists to stand up against the growing tyranny of the British King and Parliament, Mercy Otis Warren perhaps articulated it best when he said, in 1774, “in order to preserve inviolate, and to convey to their children the inherent rights of men, conferred on all by the God of nature, and the privileges of Englishmen claimed by Americans from the sacred sanction of compacts.” And so the Declaration proclaimed the supremacy of Man (“to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle him”) and outlined the purpose of government (to secure and protect his rights). By the very words of the Declaration, man has inalienable rights that no government can take away and he has the right to defend them and preserve them. That’s why the document provides that man can “alter or abolish” his government when it becomes destructive of his rights and the free exercise thereof. In other words, the rights of man would always trump the power of government; and while man has the right of self-preservation, the government has no such right.

The Constitution merely designed a government according to the moral dictates of the Declaration. That’s why it was limited in scope and permeated with so many checks and balances in order that it remain so. Thomas Paine wrote: “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” Rights of Man (1791-1792)

The Supreme Court, in one of its earliest cases – Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance (1795), which addressed a property matter as between the states of Pennsylvania and Connecticut – Judge Paterson explained: “What is a Constitution?  It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established.  The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people and is the supreme law of the land…”  [Indeed, the unprecedented task confronting the Court in its infancy was that of interpreting our new written constitution so as not to disturb the settled, existing framework of the document as written, intended, and understood by the States when they signed it. That task was short-lived].

We are NOT free when we wait for the government or for the Supreme Court to tell us what our rights are or tell us that avenues that were once open to us to restrain the power and influence of government over our once-free lives are no longer available (because they threaten the power of government).

Again, the government was instituted to protect that rights of self-government and self-determination for us; not to destroy them. And if we believe that we have the right to define our government and reclaim the rights that We the People are endowed with that a government is trying to take away or has taken away, then we have to believe in Nullification. It is the rightful constitutional remedy that restores the proper balance of sovereign power – peacefully.

Unfortunately, all too often the government is more concerned in controlling the governed rather than controlling itself, and so the responsibility falls to us to control it.

E.  The Misrepresentation that the Courts Have the Final Word

In 1958, in the case Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court rejected the doctrines of Nullification and Interposition, asserting that states have no right to refuse to enforce federal law (even when that law is one created from the bench rather than the legislature). A person who is brainwashed into believing that the federal judiciary was established to be the one final tribunal to declare what the Constitution means and which laws are constitutional and therefore bind all states and persons to those decisions has not done his or her homework. That person is a sheep.. the kind of citizen that an all-powerful government treasures and hopes to multiply.

Our Founders had something quite different in mind. Sure, Founders like Alexander Hamilton believed it best that one tribunal speak on constitutionality – for consistency. But that voice was only to render an opinion and not to have the power of supremacy.

With respect to the Founders’ intentions for the federal judiciary (as an independent branch), I tend to follow the view that Hamilton set forth in Federalist No. 78:

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatsoever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

      This simple view of the matter suggests several important consequences. It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter….. Liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments; that as all the effects of such a union must ensue from a dependence of the former on the latter, notwithstanding a nominal and apparent separation; that as, from the natural feebleness of the judiciary, it is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.

      Some perplexity respecting the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution, has arisen from an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power. It is urged that the authority which can declare the acts of another void, must necessarily be superior to the one whose acts may be declared void. As this doctrine is of great importance in all the American constitutions, a brief discussion of the ground on which it rests cannot be unacceptable.

       There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

       If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.

      This exercise of judicial discretion, in determining between two contradictory laws, is exemplified in a familiar instance. It not uncommonly happens, that there are two statutes existing at one time, clashing in whole or in part with each other, and neither of them containing any repealing clause or expression. In such a case, it is the province of the courts to liquidate and fix their meaning and operation. So far as they can, by any fair construction, be reconciled to each other, reason and law conspire to dictate that this should be done; where this is impracticable, it becomes a matter of necessity to give effect to one, in exclusion of the other. The rule which has obtained in the courts for determining their relative validity is, that the last in order of time shall be preferred to the first. But this is a mere rule of construction, not derived from any positive law, but from the nature and reason of the thing. It is a rule not enjoined upon the courts by legislative provision, but adopted by themselves, as consonant to truth and propriety, for the direction of their conduct as interpreters of the law. They thought it reasonable, that between the interfering acts of an EQUAL authority, that which was the last indication of its will should have the preference.

      But in regard to the interfering acts of a superior and subordinate authority, of an original and derivative power, the nature and reason of the thing indicate the converse of that rule as proper to be followed. They teach us that the prior act of a superior ought to be preferred to the subsequent act of an inferior and subordinate authority; and that accordingly, whenever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter and disregard the former.

It can be of no weight to say that the courts, on the pretense of a repugnancy, may substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature. This might as well happen in the case of two contradictory statutes; or it might as well happen in every adjudication upon any single statute. The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body. The observation, if it prove anything, would prove that there ought to be no judges distinct from that body.

      If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty… ”     [Then Hamilton goes on to explain that judges of the federal judiciary will be insulted from the passions of temporary political whims or majorities who want the legislature to act in violation of the Constitution by account of their life tenure.  That is what, in his opinion, would keep the federal judiciary as the faithful check on the other branches by reviewing their actions for constitutionality and rendering constitutional ‘opinions’].

The intended role of the judiciary, both generally and specifically, was to serve as the “bulwarks of a limited constitution against legislative encroachments.” (Federalist No. 78). The Founders believed that the judges would “regulate their decisions” by the word and spirit of the Constitution for the preservation of that limited government which was so necessary for maximum liberty. As the “faithful guardians of the Constitution,” the judges were expected to resist any political effort to depart from its literal provisions. The text of the Constitution and the original intention of those who framed and ratified it would be the judicial standard in giving it effect and preserving its integrity.

The Court was intended to strictly interpret and offer an opinion as to the meaning of the Constitution, as well as the legality of the actions of the Executive and Legislative branches. It was intended to protect the People from unjust laws and oppressive conduct by their government. As James Madison explained, the Constitution was written the way it was in order “to first enable the government to control the governed and in the next place, to oblige it to control itself.” An independent, constitutionally-bound judiciary was the oversight which was created to remind the other branches to control itself.

From what I understand from the Federalist Papers and the intent of the Founders, the power to interpret the Constitution should reside with the federal judiciary in order that there be one tribunal that speaks with one voice, rather than opinions all over the place by each of the states. But the Supreme Court was not intended to do anymore than offer “an opinion” as to the meaning of a particular provision of the Constitution or as to the constitutionality of a particular piece of legislation. The Court was supposed to interpret strictly in accordance to the plain meaning and the spirit of the ratifying conventions. Once the Court rendered an “opinion,” it was the understanding that the other branches would respond accordingly, ie, Congress would repeal a bill that was passed without proper and express authority, or if it refused to do so, the President would veto it (under the checks and balances). States would refuse to enact legislation that violated the Supremacy Clause. In other words, how the other branches responded to the ‘opinion” was their concern, but as to the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches (together with the state’s direct voice in the Senate), and then the voice of the States under the 10th Amendment and the people’s power at the ballot box, in the end the only actions of the government that would be enforced at the state level (ie, on the People) would be those that adhere to the language and spirit of the Constitution.

Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison quickly saw the threat the federal judiciary posed to a constitutionally-limited government. It’s one of reasons why Jefferson, when discussing the possible remedies available when the federal government oversteps its constitutional boundaries, expressly rejected the federal courts. He strongly advised the States and the People NOT to trust the judiciary with their precious liberties. Again, he expressed the opinion that the States were the best and most reliable guardians of that precious jewel and that’s why Nullification was the “Rightful Remedy.”

Here are some of the warnings and comments he made about the federal judiciary (again, being mindful that he was witnessing firsthand how the Supreme Court was actively re-defining the Constitution and undermining its guarantees of individual liberty):

To consider the Judges of the Superior Court as the ultimate arbiters of constitutional questions would be a dangerous doctrine which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have with others, the same passion for party, for power, and for the privileges of their corps – and their power is the most dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the Elective control. The Constitution has elected no single tribunal.  I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves.”   [in a letter to William C. Jarvis, 1820]

The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary: an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”    [in a letter to Charles Hammond, August 18, 1821]

The judiciary of the United States is a subtle core of sappers and miners constantly working underground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a coordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone. The opinions are often delivered by a majority of one, by a crafty Chief Judge who sophisticates the law to his mind by the turn of his own reasoning.”   [in a letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 1820]

The question whether the judges are invested with exclusive authority to decide on the constitutionality of a law has been heretofore a subject of consideration with me in the exercise of official duties. Certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which has given that power to them more than to the Executive or Legislative branches.”    [in a letter to W. H. Torrance, 1815]

The Constitution meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”    [in a letter to Abigail Adams, 1804]

The true barriers of our liberty are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man, is that of which our Revolution and present government found us possessed.”   [in a letter to L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811]

The powers of the Supreme Court were fundamentally transformed – enlarged – by the Court itself in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison. In the opinion he wrote in that landmark case, Chief Justice Marshall declared that the Court had much more power than merely offering an opinion to the other branches. Not only would the Court have power to render opinions to the other branches and to “put the States and the People on notice,” it would also have enforcement power. It would be the final word on matters of the Constitution to which all sovereigns would be bound… (Unfortunately, the Court is part of the federal government and not necessarily a fair umpire for the parties to the social compact that is the US Constitution. The decision, to me, seems to contradict that which Hamilton sought to assure the States in Federalist No. 78 – that the judiciary would not be superior to the other branches such that its decisions would not be subject to checks from the other branches (or the States). And it seems to contradict what the states found so troubling with a proposed federal government that had stronger powers than the Continental Congress under the Articles – that the federal government would have the tendency to become centralized, at the expense of the States, and would have the exclusive domain to define what its powers are.

If we had remained with that pre-Marshall definition of the Court’s power, then the States would have clearly been able to check the opinion of the federal judiciary by either concurring with it and abiding happily by the decision (relying on their understanding of the Constitution through the Federalist Papers and their ratification debates) or disagreeing and thus ignoring it.

Marbury is not entirely a bad decision. Strict constitutionalists will agree that parts of Marshall’s analysis are spot on.

The facts of the case, in and of themselves, give support to the skepticism that Thomas Jefferson had of the federal judiciary and its capacity to align itself with evil-intentioned government officials rather than act as a neutral and constitutionally-restrained independent tribunal. The case arose as John Adams tried to stack the federal courts with Federalists in his final hours as President in a move to frustrate the incoming Thomas Jefferson (who, after the attempt to establish a Federal Bank and the seeming concurrence of many Federalists with Hamilton’s position of “implied government powers). Adams made the commissions and handed them to his Secretary of State to deliver them. All were delivered except for a few, one of which was the appointment for William Marbury. The appointments were made pursuant to the Judiciary Act of 1801, which Adams had Congress pass in a specific attempt to stack the courts.

After the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 which established the federal court system. It established a Supreme Court (with a Chief Justice and 5 associate justices), three circuit courts, and 13 district courts (one district court for each of the 13 states). In November 1800, Adams lost his bid for re-election. Jefferson was elected President. Turns out the Congress changed hands as well. The Federalists, who had been in power, lost control of the House and Senate. But for those few months before Jefferson and the new Congress took office, the Federalists still had control. As I mentioned above, in order to frustrate his nemesis and his administration, Adams persuaded Congress to pass a new law – the Judiciary Act of 1801 – which would increase the number of judges sitting on the federal benches and therefore give him the opportunity to appoint several new federal (Federalist) judges. Section 13 of the Judicary Act provided: :The Supreme Court shall have power to issue writs of prohibition to the district courts and writs of mandamus to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.”

Adams appointed about 39 new judges pursuant to the Judiciary Act. His Secretary of State delivered them successfully. However, he failed to deliver the commissions of 3 new justices before Adams’ term of office ended. Again, one of those commissions was to go to William Marbury. When Jefferson took office in March 1801 and learned of Adams’ attempt to pack the courts with Federalists, as well as the failure to successfully deliver the 3 commissions, he instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to refuse the appointments. Marbury then applied to the Supreme Court for the remedy offered him under Section 13 of the Judiciary Act.

The case asked 3 questions: (1) Does Marbury have a right to the appointment? (2) Does the law afford him a remedy? and (3) Is the law that affords that remedy constitutional? Chief Justice Marshall concluded that Marbury had a right to the appointment and that the Judiciary Act offered him a remedy to assert that right. But the case boiled down to the question of whether Section 13 conflicted with the Constitution, and he concluded that it did. It improperly enlarged the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Article III established original jurisdiction and Congress does not have the power to alter the Constitution (only the amendment process can do that).

In reaching the decision that Section 13 is unenforceable, Justice Marshall articulated several principles that re-enforce the notion of limited government, social compact, original intent, and yes, nullification. He wrote:

The question whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land is a question deeply interesting to the United States, but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest. It seems only necessary to recognize certain principles, supposed to have been long and well established, to decide it.

      That the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent.

      This original and supreme will organizes the government and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments.

      The Government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it, or that the Legislature may alter the Constitution by an ordinary act.

     Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

     If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law; if the latter part be true, then written Constitutions are absurd attempts on the part of the people to limit a power in its own nature illimitable.

      Certainly all those who have framed written Constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be that an act of the Legislature repugnant to the Constitution is void. This theory is essentially attached to a written Constitution and is consequently to be considered by this Court as one of the fundamental principles of our society. the particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written Constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.”

 From these and many other selections which might be made, it is apparent that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the Legislature.  The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to that Constitution is void and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.

      If the courts aren’t bound by the phraseology of the Constitution, why does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies in an especial manner to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support! The oath of office, too, imposed by the Legislature, is completely demonstrative of the legislative opinion on this subject. It is in these words: 

      ‘I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich; and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent on me as according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.’

      Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe or to take this oath becomes equally a crime.

      It is also not entirely unworthy of observation that, in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution itself is first mentioned, and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall be made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank. [pp. 176-182]

The problem arose when Marshall announced that the Court would possess the power of deciding upon the “operation” of the law being scrutinized. The Court would made the final decision and all branches, all state courts, etc would be bound by its decision.

The problem with believing the indoctrination that when the Supreme Court speaks, the issue of supremacy is determined without question is that it compromises our notion of Liberty and our fundamental belief that our government is a creature of the People, constrained by the Rule of Law.

The central point behind nullification is that the federal government cannot be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, it will, without a shadow of a doubt, continue to grow, regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and the various checks and balances. There should be no more powerful indictment of this statement than the Supreme Court’s approval of Obamacare and its ringing endorsement of an unlimited taxing power.

Part 4: Why Nullification? 

The TRUTH about Nullification is that it is legitimate and is the only way to effect a meaningful check on the federal government when the executive, legislative, and judicial branches unite on an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution and threaten the independence of the States and the reserved rights of the People. The federal government CANNOT be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, as Madison and Jefferson warned in 1798-99, it will continue to grow – regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and other limits on government power. Nullification has always been available to push the government back within the boundaries of the Constitution but for too long, those hostile to the Constitution have insinuated – FALSELY – that the doctrine was the reason for the Civil War and for segregation, thereby trying to use shame to invalidate it.

We should take a cue from Patrick Henry. When others were celebrating the Constitution and rejoicing that a more effective compact was created, Henry urged them to cool their heads and take a step back and look carefully at the document they were asked to ratify.  It was his opinion that the government created by the Constitution would tend to concentrate power, strip power from the states, and become no better than England’s monarchy (“it squints toward monarchy”).  He urged Virginia to reject the Constitution. He reminded the delegates that trade, power, and security should not be the first concerns on their mind.  He said the proper inquiry should be “how your liberties can be better secured, for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.”

On that first day of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1788, Patrick Henry addressed the delegates with these words:

Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessing — give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!  Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.   

       When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different..  Liberty, sir, was then the primary object. We are descended from a people whose government was founded on liberty: our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation of everything. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their government is strong and energetic, but, sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation. We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors: by that spirit we have triumphed over every difficulty. But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together. Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, sir, we are not feared by foreigners; we do not make nations tremble. Would this constitute happiness, or secure liberty? I trust, sir, our political hemisphere will ever direct their operations to the security of those objects.”

The jury is still out on this thing we call the Great American Experiment. We separated from Great Britain when we insisted on governing ourselves consistent without our own values. Those values were articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to the “divine right of Kings” which was the system respected in Britain, the American colonies would establish a government “of the people, by the people, and FOR the people.” It would go one step further.. it would establish a government whose powers were derived from the people themselves (so that the people could always take them back when they were fed up with that government). While the British people had to stand up for their rights many times, Americans have never done so since the Revolutionary War. The British protested and demanded that the King respect their rights in 1100 (resulting in the 1100 Charter of Liberties), in 1215 (the Magna Carta or “Great Charter”), in 1628 (the Petition of Right of 1628), in 1641 (The Grand Remonstrances of 1641), in 1679 (the Habeas Corpus Act), and finally in 1689 (English Bill of Rights of 1689).  [The Grand Remonstrances and The English Bill of Rights, like our Declaration of Independence, set out lists of grievances against the King for usurpations of the rights that were proclaimed in the earlier charters]. The interesting thing about history of the British people in asserting their rights and demanding restraint from their government is that each time they did so, they were able to secure greater freedom. We can take a lesson from British history. There is another great distinction between the British and our system. When the Kings signed those charters, they often did so very reluctantly. For example, almost immediately after  King John (the infamous King John of the Robin Hood legend) signed the Magna Carta, he ignored it. It was ignored on and off until the 17th century. The point is that the rights of the people were enjoyed at the mercy of the King. There was no meaningful way to enforce the charters. Parliament tried to, but as with King Charles I (son of King James I, who granted the charters to the Pilgrims and Puritans to settle in America), when Parliament tried to force his hand, he turned around and dissolved it. Our Founding Fathers intended that our Constitution and Bill of Rights would be stand the test of time, guarantee the proper relationship between the People and government, and not jeopardize the rights and liberties of the people. That’s why they divided power among two equal sovereigns (power to check power) and why they included so many checks and balances. To deny Nullification is a dangerous decision. To deny it is to: (i) deny the wisdom of our Founders; (ii) trust your rights to a government which is growing more hostile to them by the day; and (iii) submit to the notion that government is capable of restraining itself and capable of divesting itself of all the unconstitutional powers it has already assumed and repealing such laws it has passed.

Liberty must always come first. Liberty is a gift, as KrisAnne Hall says, that we must pay forward. We don’t pay it forward by not second-guessing the actions of the federal government, especially when we know it likes to enlarge its powers at every chance.  We don’t pay it forward by accepting the government’s version that constitutional remedies that were put in place by our Founders to preserve the rights on which this country are founded are no longer valid. We pay it forward by preserving it. We do that by using every option we have to limit the intrusion of government in our lives and over our property. Our Constitution is not the living, breathing document that the progressives and federal judges claim it to be, for if that is the case, it can be twisted so completely as to destroy our understanding of it.  The only thing that is living and breathing is us, the citizens of the United States who have inherited a precious gift of freedom to live our lives and raise our families. And so let’s use the common sense and spark of brilliance that God so endowed us with when he also endowed us with free will and inherent rights.

References:

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958).  http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/358/1/case.html

Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 5 U. S. 177 (1803)

Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1858). http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/62/506/case.html

In re Booth, 3 Wis. 1 (1854). http://www.wicourts.gov/courts/supreme/docs/famouscases01.pdf

Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance, 2 U.S. 304, 308 (1795).  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s24.html

Robert Lowry Clinton, “The Supreme Court Before John Marshall,” Supreme Court Historical Society.  Referenced at: http://www.supremecourthistory.org/publications/the-supreme-court-before-john-marshall/

Walter Coffey, “Nullifying the Fugitive Slave Law,” February 3, 2013.  Referenced at: http://waltercoffey.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/nullifying-the-fugitive-slave-act/

Federalist Papers No. 33 – http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa33.htm

The Kentucky Resolves of 1799 (Thomas Jefferson) –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/kenres.asp

The Virginia Resolves of 1798 (James Madison) –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/virres.asp

Edwin Meese III, “The Law of the Constitution,” October 21, 1986  (speech transcript) – http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistory/meese/meese-speeches.html

Patrick Henry, speech before the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1788 – http://www.constitution.org/rc/rat_va_04.htm#henry-01

Thomas DiLorenzo, “More on the Myth of Lincoln, Secession and the ‘Civil War,”  The Daily Bell, June 2, 2013.  Referenced at:  http://www.thedailybell.com/29156/Thomas-DiLorenzo-More-on-the-Myth-of-Lincoln-Secession-and-the-Civil-War

Full text of “American patriotism: speeches, letters, and other papers which illustrate the foundation, the development, the preservation of the United States of America”  – http://www.archive.org/stream/patriotismam00peabrich/patriotismam00peabrich_djvu.txt