Federalism for Dummies

HALLOWEEN CANDY - Federalism

by Diane Rufino, Oct. 31, 2017

Federalism is the key design feature of our government system here in the United States, as established by the US Constitution, and therefore is something everyone should understand. I thought I’d try to make it easy and visual for people to understand.

Federalism is defined as a compound mode of government, with a general government (the central or ‘federal’ government) and regional governments (state governments) combined into a single political system. Each government is considered a separate and independent sovereign. A “sovereign” is defined as a group or body having the supreme authority to rule over the inhabitants within its borders and to make decisions concerning the jurisdiction’s safety and security. Another term, therefore, for federalism is “dual sovereignty.”

In the picture above, taken on Halloween, the silver bowls represent two equal sovereigns – each with supreme authority over the tasks and responsibilities delegated to it. The candy represents those tasks and responsibilities. The bowl on the left represents the federal government, with only a few tasks and responsibilities. These are expressly delegated and enumerated in Articles I – III in the Constitution. The bowl on the right is the state government, which retains the vast reserve of governmental powers. The tasks and responsibilities reserved to the states are so numerous that they could not be listed or enumerated, and instead are lumped together as “reserved powers” in the Tenth Amendment.

The Tenth Amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

So next time you think that the federal government has unlimited power, two things will help put things into perspective for you – the picture of the two bowls of Halloween candy and the simple words of the Tenth Amendment.

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SAVE THE REPUBLIC! Rethinking the American Union of States for the Preservation of Republicanism

SECESSION - Separate or Die (head, the federal government, is chopped off)

by Diane Rufino (citing Donald Livingston in his book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century), July 26, 2016

The purpose of this article is three-fold:  First, I want to be provocative and get readers thinking.  Second, I wish to educate the reader on our founding principles. And third, I hope to encourage the reader to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, written in part and edited by Donald Livingston, founder and president of the Abbeville Institute.  I enjoyed the book immensely and wanted very much to help get the word out.

I think the best way to encourage one to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century is to hook him or her using one of the more thought-provoking themes of the book. And so, this article is composed in great part using selected portions from one of the chapters in that book which I found most interesting – “American Republicanism,” authored by Livingston), with a discussion of nullification, interposition, secession, and federalism by myself.  Credit, of course, goes first and foremost to Professor Livingston.

Article IV of the US Constitution guarantees to every State in the Union “a Republican form of government.”  It is known as the “Guarantee Clause.”  It has not been widely interpreted, but constitutional scholars think it ensures that each State be run as a representative democracy or a dictatorship, preventing any initiative to change a State constitution to provide such.  The Supreme Court has essentially acknowledged that it doesn’t have the slightest idea what it means, has been reluctant to specify exactly what a “republican form of government” means and has left the clause devoid of meaning.  Historically, however, republics have had distinct characteristics, namely that its citizens make the laws they are to live under, that there is a Rule of Law, and that the republic itself be relatively small with respect to population and territory, to ensure that representation is meaningful.

The American system of 1789 was not a republic. It was a federation of republics – each state itself a republic – but the Union itself was not a republic. “A federation of republics is not itself a republic, any more than a federation of country clubs is not in and of itself a country club.” Under the Constitution of 1787, the central government could rule over individuals but only under the powers delegated to it by the sovereign States. All other powers of sovereignty belong to the States, expressly reserved through the Tenth Amendment, by the natural law of sovereignty, and contractually by force of the compact theory characterizing the Constitution. Given this framework, the final safeguard for a truly republican form of government for the people in America was, and could only be, some form of lawful resistance to the concentration of coercion in the federal government, which includes state interposition, nullification, or secession. These remedies are included in the “reserved powers” belonging to the States.

Nullification is a legal theory that holds that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that State has deemed unconstitutional. If the authority for the federal government only comes from the highly-contested and debated powers that the States agreed to delegate from their reservoir of sovereign powers, as listed in the Constitution, any federal law, policy, action, or court decision that exceeds such grants of power is “null and void” and lacks enforcement power. Since the federal government will always seek to support and enforce its laws and actions, it must be the States, as the parties to the Constitution and the ones which suffer the usurpation of powers with each unconstitutional action, which must rightfully declare “unconstitutionality” and prevent them from being enforced on a free people. Because the right of nullification is not prohibited by the Constitution (nor is it even addressed), it is reserved by the States under the Tenth Amendment.

Interposition is another claimed right belonging to the States. Interposition is the right of a State to oppose actions of the federal government that the state deems unconstitutional by in order to prevent their enforcement.  The very definition of a tyrannical government is one that imposes unconstitutional actions on its citizens. Tyranny is arbitrary rule. Interposition is the actual action, whether legislative or otherwise, to prevent an unconstitutional federal law or action from being enforced on its people. The most effective remedy against unconstitutional federal action, as emphasized by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is nullification together with interposition. Interposition finds its roots in the Supremacy Clause.  While the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance are considered the supreme law of the land, laws (and other actions) not grounded in rightful or legitimate Constitutional powers are not supreme and the States are well within their powers to prevent such usurpation of government power belonging to their sphere of authority.

Secession, like nullification and interposition, is not prohibited by the Constitution (or even addressed), and hence, is a reserved right of the States.

Nullification and interposition were invoked in 1798 by Kentucky and Virginia to identify the Alien & Sedition Acts as unconstitutional and to prevent citizens of those states from being imprisoned essentially for their exercise of free speech and press. Secession was threated in 1815 by Massachusetts after it characterized Jefferson’s embargo against Great Britain and his Louisiana Purchase and then Madison’s War of 1812 as a history of abuses against the North, with an intent to further the interests of the South. All three States’ Rights’ remedies were regularly invoked in the antebellum period, in every section of the Union, to assert State sovereignty and to constrain the central government. As of 1860, the central government was out of debt and imposed no inland taxes. It existed simply off a tariff on imports and land sales. The Supreme Court was tightly constrained in its exercise of judicial review. It challenged the constitutionality of acts of Congress only twice – in Marbury v. Madison (the Judiciary Act of 1789) and the Dred Scott decision (the right of a slave to challenge his status in a non-slave state when brought there by his master). States and localities in almost all States in the North refused to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act (nullification), either by statue or by civil acts of disobedience, and most strikingly, the Wisconsin legislature and the State Supreme Court in 1854 and 1859 outright challenged the constitutionality of the Act (citing coercion of the states and state officials). South Carolina nullified the Tariff of 1828, citing the improper nature of the tariff, changing it from an ordinary tariff (for revenue collection for the government) to a protectionist tariff (to provide direct funding of “improvements” for the North, as well as other enormous benefits), and claiming it was nothing more than a federal scheme to directly enrich the North at the great expense of the South.

Today, it is taught and it is believed that the “checks and balances” in the American system are only those between the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. We know about the veto procedure, the ratification process for treaties, appointments (including federal court justices) and judicial review (this last check is not in the constitution actually but a creature of the Supreme Court itself!)  The purpose of our Separation of Powers and our series of checks and balances is to prevent the consolidation of power in any one branch of government and any one group of representatives.  But only a very limited number of Americans understand and appreciate that the greatest check on the consolidation of power comes from the unique design feature of our government established by the States and our Founding Fathers in the conventions and debates creating the Constitution – and that is Federalism.  Federalism is idea that real power is shared by the members of the “federation,” which are the States, with the creature they created (the federal government), which is the reservoir of powers expressly delegated to it by the US Constitution.  Federalism is a “sharing” or “division” of power among sovereigns in order to prevent concentration and tyranny.  The idea is that the government, as a sovereign with very limited and expressly delegated powers, and the States, as sovereigns retaining all other powers of government, will jealously guard their sphere of power and will watch, ever-so-vigilantly, the actions of one another.  What more effective check on government power could there be !!  Sovereign versus sovereign, which is what the term “dual sovereignty” refers to.  Or, as I like to refer to this design feature: “Titan versus Titan” (a reference to Greek mythology).  Alexander Hamilton, in a speech to the New York Ratifying Convention on June 17, 1788, explained it this way: “This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.”

Sadly, this most effective check on consolidation of power in DC has been effectively eroded – mainly at the hands of the US Supreme Court.  The checks from the States on central authority in the form of nullification, interposition, and secession have now been ruled out.  And this is just another way of saying that the federal government can define the limits of its own powers. And that is what the American colonists and ratifiers of the Constitution drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 meant by “absolute monarchy.”

Ask yourself this:  Which branch of government ruled out the essential and natural remedies of nullification, interposition, and secession?  The answer is the US Supreme Court, supporting the ambitious plans of the federal government and improperly relying on Marbury v. Madison (1803) and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution for authority. For a State to treat its decisions with less than full support would bring the full resources of the federal government into its backyard. It’s happened before. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rather than interpreting the Constitution, which pretty much is its sole task, the Supreme Court has redefined a new political and government system, one that is quite different from the one entrusted to us by our framers and founders.

When authority taken by the federal government falls outside of the enumerated powers, it makes no sense to ask the federal government to rule on whether the federal government has the power or not. The States, the ones which debated and ratified the Constitution for THEIR benefit, have no umpire on the bench.  As historian Tom Woods points out, if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining the extent of its own powers, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones.

So, it is no surprise that the Supreme Court consistently and steadily handed down decision after decision to strip the States’ of their natural remedies against the Titan seeking to subjugate them – the federal government. Again, the Supreme Court is itself a branch of the very government that seeks to benefit from the consolidation of power it wants by weakening the States.  What better way to get the States to calm down and get in line?

Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of the federal judiciary and warned that they had the greatest potential to undermine republican government. In 1823, he wrote: “At the establishment of our Constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions nevertheless become law by precedent, sapping by little and little the foundations of the Constitution and working its change by construction before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life if secured against all liability to account.”

If you believe, as most Americans seem to believe (because of government indoctrination), that States no longer have the rights of nullification, interposition, and secession because of the action of one man, a virtual dictator, Abraham Lincoln, then you must reconcile the fact that no State any longer enjoys a republican form of government, as guaranteed in Article IV. That is, they no longer enjoy a republican form of government under any historical understanding of what such a government is nor under the vision of our founders. That notion has now decayed into a legal fiction.

But if the States are not republics, what are they?  Donald Livingston argues that the answer was given by Alexis de Tocqueville in his assessment of the French Revolution. According to de Tocqueville, the French revolution was intended to overturn the monarchy and return power to the people by creating a republic but in reality, it fundamentally changed nothing. The coercive government of the monarchy was simply replaced by a different type of coercive government.  The monopoly over government and land created by Kings (Divine Right of Kings) is a doctrine that embodies two bodies of the king. This duality is symbolized by this famous phrase: “The King is dead! Long live the King!” The first body of the king was the flesh and blood; the mortal body.  The second body was the monopoly, or the artificial corporation, established by birth-right and familial ties. Both bodies are coercive in nature since they are not “of the people” and can never truly represent them. When de Tocqueville said that the French Revolution fundamentally changed nothing, he meant that all that it did was kill the first body of the king. It left the second body of the king intact, merely changing its name from the “Crown” to the “Republic.” The revolution merely replaced the person of the king with a fictitious “nation-person.” In other words, what was created after the French Revolution was an absolute monarchy without the monarch; a regime that had all the major defects of a monarchy but none of the benefits. The post-French Revolution era of “republics” would increase government centralization beyond the wildest dream of any monarch. The German economist, Hans Hoppe, estimates that before the mid-nineteenth century, monarchs, as bad as they might have been, were never able to extract more than 5-8 percent of the gross national product (GNP) from the people, whereas “republics” have been able to exploit over 60 percent.

In his war to prevent Southern independence, Lincoln and the perversely-named “Republican” Party destroyed the two American institutions that had made true republicanism possible in a region on our continental scale – State nullification and secession. Without these rights, there can be no practical check to centralization and oppression of government, and hence, no practical way to ensure that the People of the several States are guaranteed a republican form of government.

Is it possible to have an exceedingly large republic, such as the size of our current-day United States?  British philosopher David Hume once considered the question of a large republic. He proposed the first model of a large republic in his essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth,” which was published in 1792.  Hume’s model did not physically seek to divide territory up physically into individual sovereigns but rather to decentralize government power so as to preserve the human scale demanded of republican self-government. The question is whether this can realistically be done.

Hume agrees with the republican tradition that “a small commonwealth is the happiest government in the world within itself.” But Hume’s model of a large republic, in contrast to the historically small republic, would be to order the large republic in such a way as to have all the advantages of a little republic. The question is whether Hume’s model is translatable to the real world: Can the size of a republic be expanded without destroying those values unique to republican government (self-government and the rule of law) that require a human scale.

Hume’s idea of a large republic is something of the size of Great Britain or France. (Remember his essay was written in 1792!)  As a comparison, Great Britain is approximately equivalent in size to Wyoming and France is approximately equivalent in size to Texas. In Hume’s model, the republic is divided into 100 small republics, but with a national capital. Each of these small republics is then divided into 100 parishes. The members of each parish meet annually to elect 1 representative. This yields 100 representatives in each small republic’s legislature. The legislature selects from among its members 10 magistrates to exercise the executive and judicial functions of the republic and 1 senator to represent the republic in the national capital. That yields 100 senators, from among which 10 are chosen to serve as the national executive and judiciary.

Laws would be proposed by the national senate and passed down to the provincial republics or ratification. Each republic has one vote regardless of population, and the majority rules. To free the provincial legislature from having to vote on every trivial law, a bill can be sent instead to the ten provincial magistrates in each republic for ratification.

How does Hume’s large republic compare to the “highly-centralized regime” that the United States has become today?  Hume’s republic has 100 senators in the national capital representing the individual States, as we do. But the legislative body representing the nation of individuals is located in the several capitals of the provincial republics. This provides three essential advantages.  First, it provides a better and more republican ratio of representation to population. Hume’s republic is the size of Britain, which in his time had some 9 million people; yet his regionally dispersed legislature jointly yields 10,000 representatives.  [100 x 100].  By contrast, the United States has 305 million people, which is 34 times as many inhabitants. Its representative body contains not 10,000 representatives but only 435 representatives – a number that Congress capped by law in 1911.  Hume’s large republic provides a ratio of 1 representative for every 900 people, and so it is of a republican scale.  This is very important !!  The United States’ system provides 1 representative for every 700,000 people, which is not even remotely within a republican scale.

And if you are thinking that this unrepublican character of the United States can be remedied by abolishing the law setting the cap at 435 and increasing the number of representatives in the US House, you will need to understand that judging by the size of legislatures around the world, 435 is just about the right size for a lawmaking body. Everything in nature has a proper size for optimum functionality. A cell can only grow to a certain size (a certain volume-to-cell-surface ratio) so that it can absorb nutrients, eliminate waste, and respire most efficiently. A jury of 12 is perfectly suited to determine the facts of a case; a jury of 120 would be dysfunctional.  When the first US Congress met in New York in 1789, there were 65 representatives. There was 1 representative for every 60,000 people. James Madison thought that was an inadequate ratio to adequately represent the people in a republic. When the number of representatives was capped at 435 in 1911, the population in the United States was 93,863,000. That means that there was 1 representative for every 215,777 inhabitants. If we were to use the same ratio that was used in 1789 – 1: 60,000 – there would be over 5,000 members in the House of Representatives. This would be impossibly large for a lawmaking body. Size does matter.

So, if the number of representatives in Washington DC cannot be increased as the population increases, then we have clearly reached the point where talk of republican self-government is utterly meaningless.  We are merely a republican in name only. In the not too distant future, the population of the United States will reach 435 million. This would yield one representative for every million persons.  Who could honestly believe a regime under this system could be described as a republic?

The point is that a country can literally become too large for self-government.  It becomes unresponsive to the people because its representatives cannot possibly represent the interests of all its constituents.

If the United States has indeed reached the point of political obesity, then the only remedy would be to downsize. The United States will need to be downsized either through peaceful secession movements or through a division into a number of federative units forming a voluntary commonwealth of American federations – an idea that Thomas Jefferson was fond of.

For the moment, let’s put peaceful secession aside (which would divide the Union into distinct territorial jurisdictions or would create individual, independent sovereigns).  Suppose that the United States adopts such a model as Hume’s large republic. This would require abolishing the House of Representatives in Washington DC (Yay!) and transforming the State legislatures into a joint national legislature. The Senate would propose legislation to be ratified by a majority of the States, each State having one vote.

Consider trying to enact the unpopular legislation passed in 2009 and then 2010 under such a model. Of course, I’m referring to the Bailout bills and the stimulus packages of 2009 and then the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or grossly referred to simply as the “Affordable Care Act’; or aptly named “Obamacare”) of 2010. A strong majority of Americans opposed the bailouts for the monster banks whose corrupt and inept policies caused the financial meltdown in 2009, the economic stimulus packages that they knew wouldn’t work, and Barack Obama’s healthcare plan of some two thousand pages, rushed through after secret meetings and secret deals and with publicly-acknowledged privileges given to some states and not others, and admissions by its leading supporters (Democrats) that they hadn’t even read it.  To this should be added that many believe that Congress has no constitutional authority to bailout businesses, let alone arbitrarily choosing which ones to provide federal aid, nor to impose a national healthcare plan, regardless whether it is good or not and whether or not it would help certain citizens out. Now, had these bills been sent down to the State legislatures for debate and ratification, as required by Hume’s large republic model, their defeat would have been so certain that they probably would never have even been proposed in the first place.

The second advantage presented by Hume’s model is that by dispersing the national legislature among the provincial republics (the smaller republics), he has eliminated the corruption that inevitably comes from putting the House of Representatives and the Senate in the same place. The number of representatives in Washington is 435 in the House, and 100 in the Senate– for a grand total of 535 lawmakers. A majority of this number is only 269. This small number rules 305 million people. And the majority can be even less, since both houses can lawfully operate, and they often do, with a mere quorum. A quorum majority of both houses of Congress is only 135 !!

Consider also that the US Supreme Court, centered in DC, a branch of the federal government, with justices who are appointed according to political and ideological lines – and not for proven understanding and adherence to the Constitution – has usurped the traditional “police powers” of the States, which it exercises for the health, safety (including law enforcement), welfare, education, religion, and morality of its citizens. The police powers exercised by each individual State for the benefit of its own people is the very essence of republican life. Nine unelected Supreme Court justices with life tenure – by only a vote of 5-to-4 – make major social policy for 305 million people. Political issues that are reserved to the States, such as abortion, marriage, and voter integrity laws, have been taken out of the policy arena and magically transformed into “constitutional rights.” This means, in effect, that the Court can rewrite the Constitution at will, entirely by-passing the process specifically provided for in Article V (ratification of any alteration/amendment of the Constitution by a ratification by three-fourths of the States).  Again, to think that five members of a high court can usurp lawmaking authority from the legislature (popularly-elected), can usurp powers from the States, and can transform the meaning and intent of the Constitution from the bench rather than the lawful process specifically put in place for the People themselves to define the limits of their government and we are still a republic is ludicrous.

Dispersing the legislatures among provinces would not necessarily get rid of government corruption, which is one of the biggest problems with a consolidated government. However, it would not exist on the same scale and of the same intensity that we see in DC today. Hume’s national legislature sits jointly in the 100 provincial capitals.  That means that a lobbying interest must deploy a much greater number of lobbyists and over greater distances. In addition, it would be much more difficult for representatives to coordinate with each other to buy and sell votes, as is routinely done in Congress today. With such a large republic, representatives would be more cautious and frugal in spending taxpayer money. After all, the 10,000 dispersed representatives who live in the same neighborhood with their constituents would have to look them in the eye and would have to answer to them.

Third, Hume provides a number of checks to prevent a faction from dominating the whole. If the senate rejects a proposed law, only 10 senators out of 100 are needed to veto that decision and forward the bill to the republics for consideration. Laws thought to be trivial can be sent from the senate to the ten magistrates of the republic for ratification instead of calling on the whole legislature. But only 5 out of 100 provincial representatives are needed to veto this and call for a vote of their legislature. Each (small) republic can veto legislation of another republic and force a vote on the matter by all the republics.

Should the United States be divided up into provincial republics – into a “federation of republics” – in order to provide a true republican form of government to its people?  Thomas Jefferson thought so.  George Kennan, esteemed historian and American diplomat (crafted the US policy of containment with respect to the Soviet Union) also thought so. In his autobiography, Around the Cragged Hill, Kennan argued that the United States has become simply too large for the purposes of self-government. As he argued, the central government can rule 305 million people only by imposing one-size-fits-all rules that necessarily result in a “diminished sensitivity of its laws and regulations to the particular needs, traditions, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and the like of individual localities and communities.”  Kennan passed away in 2005.  That the lives, property, income, and fortunes of 305 million Americans should be the playthings of an oligarchy in Washington that can act by a majority in Congress of only 269 (and 135 if acting by a quorum) and that the essence of republican life – religion, morals, education, marriage, voting rights, law enforcement, and social welfare – should be decided by nine unelected Supreme Court justices is something no free, liberty-minded people should tolerate.

Of course, there is the other option – secession and the formation of individual republics, not held together in federation form. It is said that secession should and must be ruled out because it causes war and it will necessarily involve bloodshed.  But that is not necessarily true. Of course it will depend on the ambitions of the administration in Washington DC, in particular, the president.  We would hope that we should never again suffer the likes of another Abraham Lincoln. But there are many examples of states that have seceded peacefully, including a number of Baltic states from the former Soviet Union. Norway peacefully seceded from Sweden in 1905 and Singapore did so from the Malaysian federation in 1965.  Eventually, if things don’t change and freedom’s flame is close to being extinguished, secession may be the remedy to save the American experiment. Additionally, it may be the only way to save the US Constitution – by putting it in the hands of a people who will take care of it and be much more vigilante with its limited powers and its checks and balances than Americans have been.  When 11 Southern States seceded from the Union in 1860-61 and formed the Confederate States of the American, they, as a Union, established a new constitution. This would be the third constitution that Americans made for themselves, and in most respects, it was far superior to the one of 1787 – they backed out of.  It included several provisions which would have made it much more difficult for the central government to concentrate and usurp power. Had Lincoln respected the States’ right of self-determination (as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence), we would have had the unique opportunity to compare, side-by-side, how each Union of States (North or South) fared under their constitutions.  The point is that secession gave the People (acting in State conventions) the opportunity to correct the defects in the Constitution that caused them to be oppressed by government. The question will be: when that time comes (and maybe it is already here), will we have the Will to Secede!!  Already, between 19-34% of Americans (ranked by State), now believe we would be better if States peacefully left the Union.

Donald Livingston closes his discussion of “American Republicanism” with this summary: “When a healthy cell grows too large, it divides into two cells. It is the cancerous cell that no longer knows how to stop growing. That artificial corporation, created by the individual States over two centuries ago, called the “United States” has, over time, metastasized into a cancerous growth on a federation of continental scale, sucking republican vitality out of States and local communities. The natural chemotherapy for this peculiar condition is and can only be some revived form of State interposition, nullification, or secession. If these are rejected out of hand as heresies (as our nationalist historians have taught since the late nineteenth century), then we can no longer, in good faith, describe ourselves as enjoying a republican style of government.

American secession

 

Again, I encourage everyone to read the entire book – Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century.  Aside from Donald Livingston, accomplished authors and academics Kent Masterson Brown, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, Dr. Marshall DeRosa, Yuri Maltsev, and Rob Williams also contributed chapters.

 

References:

Donald Livingston, ed., Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede, but Why?  –   http://blogs.reuters.com/jamesrgaines/2014/09/19/one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede-from-the-u-s-but-why/

Poll: A Quarter of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/poll-seccession

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://dailycaller.com/2014/09/19/poll-one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede/

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TENTH AMENDMENT KEEPERS: Keepers of the Tenth!

10th Amendment

by Diane Rufino, July 19, 2016

This short article is intended to alert the reader to the importance of the Tenth Amendment and hopefully inspire him or her to join the Tenth Amendment Movement and help bring government power back to the States in those areas historically belonging to them and reserved to them under the Tenth Amendment.

About the Tenth Amendment Movement:

The Tenth Amendment has its roots in the intent of each State to retain its full sovereignty and its right of self-determination. The Tenth Amendment comes from Article II of our very first constitution, the Articles of Confederation: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”  So concerned about their right of self-determination and their fear of being consumed by a centralized government under the US Constitution as drafted in 1787 at the Philadelphia Convention, that several crucial states were not willing to ratify it in convention. Virginia and New York would not ratify unless they were given assurances that amendments (for a Bill of Rights) would be added, and indeed they proposed several, including one with the language of the Tenth Amendment. To make their position firmer, they included Resumption Clauses with their Ordinances of Ratification which conditioned their ratification on the explicit right to resume all powers when they desired so. “We, the delegates of the people of Virginia do, in the name and on behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

Supporters of big government (such as Abraham Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, Obama, many Supreme Court justices, and today’s progressives) have actively down-played the Tenth Amendment because it embodies States’ Rights and state power.  In the years leading up to the War of 1861 and most certainly with that war and afterwards, the political elites in government understood that the ordinary checks and balances provided in the Constitution could be co-opted and controlled, but the most critical of all the checks and balances that our Founders provided on the federal government – the tension created by sovereign states (“Dual Sovereignty,” “federalism”… or as I like to refer to it: “Titan versus Titan”) – is the one they could not, especially the Southern States. And so began the movement to destroy the concept of States’ Rights, the great movement of Thomas Jefferson.  Indeed, most Americans believe what the victor of the War of 1861 (ie, the federal government) has indoctrinated, which is that the sovereignty of the federal government, in all cases, trumps the States and that the States are powerless to oppose the government or leave the Union.  The Tenth Amendment Movement knows that this indoctrination can be reversed by education and by the willing re-assertion of the Tenth Amendment by the States.  The Tenth Amendment Movement is about educating folks and especially members and candidates for state legislatures about the compact nature of the Constitution, which essentially says that the States, as willing parties, mutually agreed to the terms of the Constitution and assented to be bound by it (forming the Union, with its “creature” – the federal government – providing certain functions on their behalf), so long as the terms were faithfully adhered.  Compacts implicate the laws of contract and to some degree the law of agency.

Unquestionably, the Constitution was created as a social compact. It had all the requisites of a contract. There were parties: thirteen States, to which were added those that similarly ratified the document in the years after 1781. There was mutuality: each State promised to give up some of its sovereignty in exchange for what the Union promised to deliver – for receiving a “common defense” and some regulation of commerce between the States where it was necessary to ensure free trade. The Constitution was created by the States and ratified by the States, each acting in Convention. It could only be amended by and between the States. And if there was any doubt about the fact that the Constitution was an agreement entered into by and between the States, Article VII states: “The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.”  Every one of our Founding Fathers characterized the Constitution as a compact. It was referred to as such in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, in all the State Ratifying Conventions, Anti-Federalist Papers, the Federalist Papers, in the communications by Thomas Jefferson, in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (respectively), in Madison’s 1800 Report, in the several famous speeches by John C. Calhoun, and in the Ordinances of Secession.

It is critical that education by the Tenth Amendment Movement emphasize this compact nature of the Constitution and destroy the constitutional myth espoused by Lincoln to subjugate and consolidate forever the States because only then do certain remedies apply – such as nullification, interposition, and even secession itself.

The Constitution’s text and history before the War of 1861 did NOT change as a result of the surrender at Appomattox. Contracts do not textually change by the use of brute force; contracts change ONLY by the agreement of the parties. The Constitution was still a “constitution between the States” after the war as it was before. It remains so now.

Years ago, it would have been very rare to find folks who supported such critical doctrines such as Nullification and Interposition.  Even talk of States’ Rights seemed to be unpopular.  Which state would even think of daring to question the federal government?  But over the years, as the federal government has become exceedingly ambitious, arrogant, tyrannical, corrupt, reckless, and out of touch with the American people, I’ve seen things change. I’ve watched in seminars how voices of skepticism turned to support. Instead of people telling me such remedies were illegitimate, unconstitutional, and dangerous, all of a sudden, they started asking how to approach their legislators about using them against the federal government.  States are looking to nullification and interposition to finally define boundaries.  States are passing nullification measures on a wide range of issues – Obamacare, federal gun control, hemp, medical marijuana.

I hope that if you believe in the importance of this movement, as I believe, you will get involved, help educate others, and help elect like-minded representatives to your State legislature.  Whether individual freedom will be secured for “generations to come and millions yet unborn” will depend upon how the States choose to value the Tenth Amendment.  And the path that each State takes can be determined through the voice of its people.

How can you get involved?  Contact the Tenth Amendment Center, through its website.  If you have a chapter in your state, contact any of its members.  If you don’t have a chapter, either volunteer to start one or help recruit someone with the necessary time and skills to organize and run it. If you belong to an organization, such as the Tea Party or any other community organization, request that speakers be invited to talk about the Tenth Amendment, Nullification, Interposition, Judicial Activism, the Constitution and Original Intent, and other such topics.

Educate, educate, educate. The most important thing you can do is become educated!  You will find educational articles and updates on my blogsite (www.forloveofgodandcountry.com), on the Tenth Amendment Center website (http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/), and on the Abbeville Institute website (http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/)

Finally, follow my blogsite – Tenth Amendment Keepers (https://tenthamendmentkeepers.wordpress.com) and the Facebook site of the same name.

Together, we must Keep the Tenth Amendment relevant.

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THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY HAS BECOME DANGEROUS & DESPOTIC: A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

SUPREME COURT - Judicial Supremacy

by Diane Rufino, July 11, 2015

US CONSTITUTION:  AMENDMENT PROPOSAL

An amendment to replace the States’ influence in the federal government since the 17th Amendment was adopted.

“…If no remedy of the abuse be practicable under the forms of the Constitution, I should prefer a resort to the Nation for an amendment of the Tribunal itself.”  — James Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1832

AMENDMENT PROPOSAL:

Whereas, “The Creator has made the earth for the living, not for the dead.  Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things.”  (Thomas Jefferson).  Rights and powers do not originate or belong to a government, unless that power is exercised for the People – on behalf of them – and NOT against them;

Whereas, the several States, by a compact under the style and title “Constitution for the United States,” and of amendments thereto, voluntarily constituted a general government for special common purposes;

Whereas, the several States are parties to the compact (Constitution), with the people of said States acting in their own conventions to consider, debate, deliberate, and ratify it;

Whereas, our government structure is predicated on separation of powers between the States, as sovereigns, and the federal government, which is sovereign with respect to certain responsibilities;

Whereas, this separation of powers, known as federalism, is a critical feature of our government system, intended to safeguard the “precious gem” of individual liberty by limiting government overreach;

Whereas, there is no provision in the Constitution nor any grant of delegated power by which the States can be said to have (willingly or intentionally) surrendered their sovereignty, for it is clear that no State would have ratified the document and the Union would not have been established;

Whereas, the States were too watchful to leave the opportunity open to chance and using an abundance of caution, insisted that a series of amendments be added, including the Tenth Amendment, as a condition of ratification and formation of the Union;

Whereas, the Preamble to the Bill of Rights expressed the unambiguous intention of those amendments, and reads: “The Conventions of 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: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution”;

Whereas, that relationship between the states and the federal government is defined by the Tenth Amendment, which reads:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”;

Whereas, the critical relationship has been eroded through the many Supreme Court decisions which have transferred power from the States to the federal government in order to enlarge its sphere of influence;

Whereas, the federal government has made itself the exclusive and final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, and as such, its need for power and its discretion – and not the Constitution – have been guiding those decisions.

Whereas, the federal government has created for itself an absolute monopoly over the possession and scope of its powers and has consistently assumed powers it wasn’t meant to have – misappropriating them from the States and from the People;

Whereas, the federal government has used said monopoly to change the nature of the Constitution and redefine its terms without using the lawful route, Article V;

Whereas, the particular security of the people is in the possession of a written and stable Constitution. The branches of the federal government have made it a blank piece of paper by construction;

Whereas, the federal government, through the consolidation and concerted action of its branches and said monopoly, the government has created a government that is bloated, vested with illegitimate powers, coercive, wasteful, corrupt, and out of touch with the People, is one in which less than a quarter of the people have trust in, and most importantly, is one that poses serious threats to the exercise of the freedoms that Americans are promised;

Whereas, the right of judging on infractions of inherent powers is a fundamental attribute of sovereignty which cannot be denied to the States, and therefore they must be allowed to do so;

Whereas, the States need a voice directly in the federal government in order to break up its monopoly and to serve as the only effective check to prevent unconstitutional laws from being enforced;

Therefore, in order to reverse the unintended concentration of power in the federal government and in order to divest it of powers it has misappropriated and assumed for the past 200 years

And Therefore, in order to replace the States’ influence in the federal government since the 17th Amendment was adopted, to recognize their sovereign right to meaningfully defend their sphere of power embodied in the Tenth Amendment, and to have them, as the parties who created and adopted the Constitution and from which the government’s powers derived, be the tribunal which offers the opinions of constitutionality, the following amendment is proposed to alter the make-up of the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court’s membership will increase from 9 to 50. This way, citizens don’t incur the outrage that comes from a decision handed down by a mere 9 mortals, each motivated like other politicians with politics, legacy, passions, opinions, prejudices, personal preferences, ideology, etc., or the more outrageous situation of a 5-4 decision.]
  • Justices to the Supreme Court will be assigned by the States. Each state will select one justice to the Court. That justice will be selected by the particular state legislature (or popular referendum).
  • Justices selected by each state MUST have a documented history of adherence to the original meaning and intent of the Constitution and MUST have cited supporting documentation for its meaning and intent, including the Federalist Papers and the debates in the various state ratifying conventions. [Any change to the Constitution, including to reflect “modern times,” must be in the form of an amendment].
  • Justices can serve an unlimited term, but that term can be shortened upon a showing of incompetence, disloyalty to the state, or by violating the previous provision.
  • Justices will require each law passed by Congress to be prefaced with the particular grant of delegated Constitutional power which grants legal authority for that law. [Having 50 justices will allow the Court to render an initial opinion on the constitutionality of each piece of legislation, thus giving Congress the opportunity to be more cautious and responsible with its office.]
  • The first task of the newly-seated Supreme Court will be to review the federal budget for spending that is not constitutional. The analysis will be used to remind Congress what are the constitutional objects of spending, to adjust federal taxation, and to help return policy-making and legislative power to the states.
  • The next task of the newly-seated Supreme Court will be to invalidate all federal mandates (*) and eliminate all funding the government uses or plans to give/offer the states through “conditioned” grants or other forms of funding, contractual or otherwise. [Mandates are directly in violation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; Congress may not commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states. With respect to federal grants and other forms of funding, if the government’s budget includes funds to “bribe” the states and otherwise attempt to influence state policy or planning, then it clearly overtaxes. Bribing the states or otherwise paying for any of its internal functions or projects is not one of the objects for which Congress can tax and spend under the Constitution. Such funding will end and the reduced federal tax rate will allow the states themselves to tax according to their own schemes to fund their own projects.]
  • The Supreme Court’s new membership will establish new constitutional law jurisprudence. They not be bound by any previous court decision and will agree to establish continuity in jurisprudence only among their own decisions.
  • Congress will not attempt to limit jurisdiction on this newly-organized Supreme Court in an attempt to frustrate the intent of this amendment.
  • Because the Constitution is the peoples’ document – their shield against excessive government in their lives and affairs – the justices will honor the rightful expectation that it is firm and unambiguous in its meaning. “The Constitution of a State is stable and permanent, not to be worked upon by the temper of the times, nor to rise and fall with the tide of events; notwithstanding the competition of opposing interests, and the violence of contending parties, it remains firm and immovable, as a mountain amidst the raging of the waves.”  [Justice William Patterson, in Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance(1795)]. 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.  The purpose of having a stable and firm constitution is so that when government transgresses its limits, the people can immediately recognize such action. [Thomas Paine].  Any change in the meaning of the US Constitution will be sought through the amendment process provided in Article V.

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INTRODUCTION:

There is one principle upon which the Supreme Court should most firmly stand united. It is explained, proclaimed, assured in Federalist #78: “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.”

The servant has indeed become more powerful than the master.

The reason the servant has become more powerful than its master is because the Supreme Court has expanded and re-defined the authority granted to the Congress and to the Executive in the US Constitution. And in order to do so, it first had to expand and re-define its own authority, which it did in 1803 – only 12 years after it heard its very first case (in 1791).

The first question we must ask is this:  What is a constitution?  A constitution is instrument by which authority for government is delegated from its natural depository. As the Declaration of Independence makes abundantly clear, the laws of Nature and God’s Law have established that man himself is vested with this authority. There is a natural order…  First there is man, then there are communities when men join together, and finally, there is government established by social compact whereby rules and laws are established so that men can live successfully among one another, enjoying security and without surrendering their essential rights and liberties (including property). Thomas Paine, in his publication Rights of Man (1791-92), 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.”  In other words, government action needs legitimate authority and that authority must be spelled out so that people know at which point power is being abused.

Justice William Patterson explained in more detail the significance of a constitution in one of the Supreme Court’s earliest cases, Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance (1795):  “The Constitution of a State is stable and permanent, not to be worked upon by the temper of the times, nor to rise and fall with the tide of events; notwithstanding the competition of opposing interests, and the violence of contending parties, it remains firm and immovable, as a mountain amidst the raging of the waves.”   He continued:

“In England, the authority of the Parliament runs without limits, and rises above control. It is difficult to say what the constitution of England is; because, not being reduced to written certainty and precision, it lies entirely at the mercy of the Parliament: It bends to every governmental exigency; it varies and is blown about by every breeze of legislative humor or political caprice. Some of the judges in England have had the boldness to assert, that an act of Parliament, made against natural equity, is void; but this opinion contravenes the general position, that the validity of an act of Parliament cannot be drawn into question by the judicial department: It cannot be disputed, and must be obeyed. The power of Parliament is absolute and transcendent; it is omnipotent in the scale of political existence. Besides, in England there is no written constitution, no fundamental law, nothing visible, nothing real, nothing certain, by which a statute can be tested. In America the case is widely different: Every State in the Union has its constitution reduced to written exactitude and precision. 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 paramount to the power of the Legislature, and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it. The life-giving principle and the death-doing stroke must proceed from the same hand. What are Legislatures? Creatures of the Constitution; they owe their existence to the Constitution: they derive their powers from the Constitution: It is their commission; and, therefore, all their acts must be conformable to it, or else they will be void. The Constitution is the work or will of the People themselves, in their original, sovereign, and unlimited capacity. Law is the work or will of the Legislature in their derivative and subordinate capacity. The one is the work of the Creator, and the other of the Creature. The Constitution fixes limits to the exercise of legislative authority, and prescribes the orbit within which it must move. In short, gentlemen, the Constitution is the sun of the political system, around which all Legislative, Executive and Judicial bodies must revolve. Whatever may be the case in other countries, yet in this there can be no doubt, that every act of the Legislature, repugnant to the Constitution, as absolutely void…..

      I hold it to be a position equally clear and found, that, in such case, it will be the duty of the Court to adhere to the Constitution, and to declare the act null and void. The Constitution is the basis of legislative authority; it lies at the foundation of all law, and is a rule and commission by which both Legislators and Judges are to proceed. It is an important principle, which, in the discussion of questions of the present kind, ought never to be lost sight of, that the Judiciary in this country is not a subordinate, but a co-ordinate, branch of the government.”

What makes the Constitution stable and permanent is the strict and consistent understanding of its terms and its intent.   James Madison, who is considered the author of the Constitution, advised: “If we were to look for the meaning of the instrument [Constitution] beyond the face of the instrument, we must look for it, not in the general Convention, which proposed, but in the State Conventions, which accepted and ratified the Constitution.”

BACKGROUND:

In 1776, the 13 original British colonies in America sent delegates to a general congress, who there, for the colonies they represented, made the declaration “that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”  The permeating principle pronounced and proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence was that every people had the right to alter or abolish their government when it ceased to serve the ends for which it was instituted. Each State decided to exercise that right, and all of the thirteen united (with their representatives pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor) to seek independence from Great Britain. A long war ensued. After a heavy sacrifice of life and treasure, the Treaty of Paris was negotiated in 1783, by which Great Britain recognized the independence of the States separately, not as one body politic, but severally, each one being named in the act of recognition.

In 1777, the delegates from each of the thirteen States, met once again in the general congress and agreed to “certain articles of confederation and perpetual union between the States.”  They agreed that the union formed would be a confederation of states. That no purpose existed to consolidate the States into one body politic is manifest from the terms of the second article, which was: “Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in congress assembled.” The meaning of this article is quite plain.  Under the Articles, representation in the Congress of the Confederation was one vote per state, irrespective of population or the number of delegates in attendance, and the powers available were only those expressly delegated, with all others being reserved to the States separately. Under the Articles of Confederation, the War for Independence (Revolutionary War) was conducted.

On October 19, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his troops at the battle of Yorktown, Virginia, and the colonies were finally free!  It was not until September 3, 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, that the Revolutionary War came to its final conclusion.

In the face of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Articles of Confederation, and of the Treaty of Paris, it is clear that in 1783 each State was a sovereign, free, and independent community.

After the pressure and necessity of war was removed, it became clear that the “common government” – the Congress of the Confederation – was impracticable and ineffective to administer the general affairs of the Union; it would need to possess additional powers.  In 1786, 12 delegates from 5 states (NY, NJ, PA, DE, and VA) gathered at a tavern in Annapolis MD to discuss and develop a consensus about reversing the protectionist trade barriers that each state had erected. That was the limited purpose of the convention. Other states were supposed to attend but never made it in time.  (Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was largely independent from the others and the national government had no authority to regulate trade between and among the states).  Alexander Hamilton wrote the Convention’s final report and sent it to Congress. It explained that the delegates decided not to proceed on the business of their mission on account of such a deficient representation, but believed that there was an even more compelling reason to hold another convention. The delegates noted that the Articles possessed “important defects” and lacked enough power to be effective, and if the problems were not addressed, the perceived benefits of the confederation would be unfulfilled. As conveyed in the Report, the delegates to the Annapolis Convention decided that another conference, “with more enlarged powers” should be called and should meet in Philadelphia the following summer to “take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.”

And so, the following year, May 1787, delegates from 12 of the 13 states (Rhode Island refused to send delegates), met in Philadelphia for the specific purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation.  They ended up proposing a new form of government (thanks to the dubious scheming and planning by James Madison).  The newly-drafted Constitution for the United States, a voluntary compact, was to be submitted to the States, and, if ratified by 9 of them, would go into effect as between the States so ratifying it.  As it turned out, 11 states ratified and the Constitution became effective in 1788 (with Washington being chosen unanimously by the electoral college to be the first president and the first Congress meeting in March 1789).  North Carolina finally joined the Union (ratified the Constitution) in 1789 after a Bill of Rights was proposed by James Madison in Congress and Rhode Island joined in 1790.  The old union under the Articles was replaced by “a more perfect” union under the US Constitution.

The Union was made “more perfect” because the general government thus created, would be more effective to provide certain common services for all the states. Each state, in adopting the Constitution, contended, believed, and certainly articulated that the general government was one of specifically enumerated powers only and that they reserved the residuary of sovereign powers for themselves, as individual states.

So fearful and apprehensive were the states that the common government would usurp sovereign state powers and attempt to enlarge its powers that they took several steps:

1). They designed a bicameral legislative body that included a body that directly represented the States’ interests.  Before the 17th Amendment was adopted, US Senators were selected by the state legislatures, including on a rotating basis if need be, specifically to provide a check on legislation that burdened states’ sovereign interests or exceeded constitutional authority.  The intent was to include an express federal element to the government structure and to provide an additional and critical Check and Balance on government. The sovereign states would jealously guard their sphere of power directly, at the source.

2). Two of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention (James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) went on to write a series of essays to explain and clarify the language and provisions of the Constitution to assure the states assembled in their state ratifying conventions that the document is one that creates a “common” government of very specified delegated powers.  These are the Federalist Papers, which to this day is the greatest authority on the meaning and spirit of the Constitution. The essays were explanations upon which the states relied in their decision to ratify, much the same way as parties to the purchase and sale of real property rely on contract terms and covenants when they agree to sign and be bound.

3). They conditioned their adoption of the Constitution on certain definitions and assumptions.

4). They demanded a Bill of Rights

5). They included “Resumptive Clauses”

6). The repeatedly referred to the Constitution as a “compact” between the states (the parties) to create a common government

7). They asserted their right of nullification and interposition (the refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of a federal law passed by abuse any Constitutional power or as a result of usurping power from any State or the People themselves)

Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 32:  “An entire consolidation of the States into one complete national sovereignty would imply an entire subordination of the parts; and whatever powers might remain in them, would be altogether dependent on the general will. But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States.”

And James Madison wrote 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.

And again, Hamilton write in Federalist No. 78:  “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.”

Even though such assurances were given, there were many who still did not trust that the Constitution could effectively check consolidation of power by the federal (common) government.  Such voices were particularly loud in the state ratifying conventions.  That is why several states either refused outright to ratify (such as North Carolina) or ratified only when promised that a Bill of Rights would be added. To emphasize exactly WHY the Bill of Rights was demanded by the states and why it was added, a preamble was included. The Preamble to the Bill of Rights reads: “Congress of the United States, in the City of New York, on March 4, 1789:  The Conventions of 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 to extend public confidence in the Government to best ensure the beneficent ends of the institution.”  In other words, the first ten (10) amendments were demanded by the States as a condition to joining together in a new Union in order to FURTHER LIMIT the scope of government (should they not understand the limits in Articles I – III) and to REMIND and RESTATE for the purpose of the federal government (all 3 branches) that the government is predicated on federalism – the notion of the states being sovereign and vested with all reserved powers not expressly delegated under Article I, Section 8 (nor prohibited to them under Section 9).

Aside from the Preamble to the Bill of Rights which again was specifically written to explain the reason and intention of the first ten amendments, several states inserted RESUMPTIVE CLAUSES into the adoption texts when they   officially adopted the Constitution.

The RESUMPTIVE CLAUSES were intentionally inserted because of a distrust of the government that would be created under the Constitution. They were meant as express conditions on adoption and continued membership in a Union ruled by a common government.  These states included New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island.  (It is most likely that North Carolina would have included one as well but was given firm assurances that James Madison would draft and send a Bill of Rights to the States to include in the Constitution for their protection).

New York was the eleventh State to assent to the compact of union, and her ratification was particularly important because she was seen as a potential hold-out to the ratification of the Constitution. It was a state dominated by many influential anti-Federalists, including its governor. To make her ratification conditioned on the understanding that only specifically delegated powers were intended for the federal government and nothing more, her ratification text included a declaration of the principles on which her assent was given (ie, a “Resumptive Clause”), which the following language: “That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, by the said Constitution, clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the people of the several States, or to their respective State governments, to whom they may have granted the same…”

Rhode Island’s clause read: “That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.”  And Virginia’s clause read: “Having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the federal Convention, and being prepared to decide thereon, do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

Reassumption (resumption) is the correlative of delegation.

At the time the Constitution was written and then submitted to the States for ratification, most of the Founders – and most notably, most Virginians and New Yorkers – saw the Constitution as a compact.  Reference to this was made in several Federalist essays (No. 39, 43, 44, 49, for example), in many anti-Federalist essays (written to urge skepticism of the Constitution and which prompted the writing of the Federalist Papers), and in several of the state ratifying conventions.  [Dave Brenner documents the compact nature of the Constitution in detail in his book, Compact of the Republic].  In fact, the term was commonly used for at least 100 years after. [See the various articles of secession by the southern states in 1861 and commentary explaining federalism and states’ rights].

James Madison wrote: “There is one view of the subject which ought to have its influence on those who espouse doctrines which strike at the authoritative origin and efficacious operation of the Government of the United States. The Government of the U.S. like all Governments free in their principles, rests on compact; a compact, not between the Government and the parties who formed and live under it; but among the parties themselves, and the strongest of Governments are those in which the compacts were most fairly formed and most faithfully executed.”

In his Report of 1800 to the Virginia House of Delegates, expounding on the Virginia Resolutions which addressed constitutional violations with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798), James Madison explained: “The resolution declares, first, that ‘it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties;’ in other words, that the federal powers are derived from the Constitution; and that the Constitution is a compact to which the states are parties.  Clear as the position must seem, that the federal powers are derived from the Constitution, and from that alone, the committee are not unapprised of a late doctrine which opens another source of federal powers, not less extensive and important than it is new and unexpected. The examination of this doctrine will be most conveniently connected with a review of a succeeding resolution. The committee satisfy themselves here with briefly remarking that, in all the contemporary discussions and comments which the Constitution underwent, it was constantly justified and recommended on the ground that the powers not given to the government were withheld from it; and that, if any doubt could have existed on this subject, under the original text of the Constitution, it is removed, as far as words could remove it, by the 12th amendment, now a part of the Constitution, which expressly declares, “that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

In 1798, in Supreme Court case Calder v. Bull, Justice Samuel Chase discussed the leading doctrines of American constitutional law with respect to states’ rights prior to the Civil War – the Doctrine of Vested Rights (the 10th Amendment) and the Doctrine of Police Powers.  He wrote: “The people of the United States erected their constitutions to establish justice, to promote the general welfare, to secure the blessings of liberty, and to protect persons and property from violence. The purposes for which men enter into society will determine the nature and term of the social compact; and as they are the foundation of legislative power, they will decide the proper objects of it. The nature and ends of legislative power will limit the exercise of it….  There are acts which the federal or state legislatures cannot do without exceeding their authority. There are certain vital principles in our fee republican governments which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power…..  An act of the legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great principles of the social compact cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority.  There are certain vital principles in our fee republican governments which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power…..  An act of the legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great principles of the social compact cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority…”

In The Federalist Papers, James Madison addressed the question, ‘On what principle the confederation, which stands in the solemn form of a compact among the States, can be superseded without the unanimous consent of the parties to it?’ He answered: “By recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”

As explained, constitutions speak to the very foundation of law. They provide the authority for a governing body.  Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Every law consistent with the Constitution will have been made in pursuance of the powers granted by it. Every usurpation or law repugnant to it will be null and void.”  And Chief Justice John Marshall explained: “All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.” (Marbury v. Madison, 1803).  Authority is not without limits, otherwise a written constitution would not be necessary. And so there are boundaries. For a government to take a step beyond such boundary would result in a nullity. Nullification is a doctrine that derives not only from the “compact theory” of the Union, but derives from the very nature of constitutions in general.  Nullification essentially states that a law made without legitimate, delegated legal authority is null and void and is not enforceable (on a State or on the People). It is a remedy to prevent government overreach and abuse.  As an effective remedy, of course, the offending law must be identified and then affirmative efforts must be made to prevent its enforcement. Nullification flows from the nature of the Constitution and as such it fundamental and foundational.  It flows from the fact that the Constitution is a compact….  an agreement by parties (the States) to be bound in a union and thereby abiding by the responsibilities (burdens, including the burden of delegating some of its sovereign powers) while benefitting by its service.

As the leading authority on Nullification, Thomas Woods, explains: “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.”

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were the Founders (are most influential, to be sure) who articulated Nullification most clearly.

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 point is that the Constitution created a common government of limited delegated powers.  The delegation of sovereign powers had to come from somewhere, and because of the declaration of liberty proclaimed in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, we know those powers came from the States, and the People themselves. Any delegation of sovereign individual rights is always temporary in nature and any delegation of state powers is temporary as well.  Any assumption of powers not expressly delegated to government remains with the States and People, and every time any branch of government exceeds its delegated powers, it usurps them from the rightful depositories.  The States and our Founders took every possible opportunity to ensure that the government would remain limited in size and scope.  Their goal, their vision was to use the power of the states to limit the power of the federal government. It was the unique design feature that would ensure the greatest degree of freedom and bring to life the promises in the Declaration of Independence.

THESE are the principles upon which the general government was created.  This was the common understanding of the states in forming the Union.

Supremacy Clause (cartoon - States saluting Constiution)

DISCUSSION:

As predicted and despite the numerous warnings, by such esteemed intellects as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Mason (to name a few), members of the federal government have attempted, and have almost always succeeded, in concentrating power in all three branches.  They have weakened the status of the states at every turn. It began, unfortunately, when the very father of our nation, George Washington, supported the very proposition rejected at the Philadelphia Convention and in the ratifying conventions — that the Constitution is not only one of expressly enumerated powers but one of “implied” powers as well (thus enlarging at the time the federal taxing power). And then came the devastating decision by the Supreme Court in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison which proclaimed, without any provision in the Constitution as support, that its decisions on constitutional matters are binding upon the other branches of government, on the States, and on the People.

The monopoly that we see today by the federal government over the meaning and intent of the Constitution, as well as the scope of its powers, was clearly beginning to take shape in 1803.

The Civil War was an unfortunate time in our history.  While the creation of the first National Bank (1791) and then the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) posed the scenarios of what would happen if the federal government attempted to usurp or re-define its powers and what would happen if the government passed laws violative of the Constitution, the Civil War showed us what would happen if the government refused to respect its status under the Declaration of Independence and instead decided to seek its own self-preservation rather than protect the rights of the parties which created it as the agent. In other words, the Civil War presented the case of a rogue government.  Yet, at the end of the Civil War, the Constitution essentially remained unchanged except for the addition of the Reconstruction era amendments – the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.  The balance of power between the States and the federal government, as embodied in the Constitution, remained intact. It was only when the Supreme Court decided to re-interpret and twist and mold the 14th amendment that federalism was significantly eroded.

But then the coup de grace….  the passage of the 17th amendment.

The 17th amendment was added to the Constitution, making Senators elected and accountable only to the people. As we all know, because of the transient nature of habitation – the ability of people to move freely from state to state – as well as the overwhelming influence of immigration, the interests and concerns of the people are most often not the interests and concerns of the state as a sovereign unit. Now Senators cannot be removed for bad voting behavior for six years and have an incredible opportunity and incentive to become not only rogue representatives but to become agents of the government rather than agents of the people.

With the passage of the 17th amendment, the monopoly was firmly established.

And from that point on, the federal government has grown by leaps and bounds, mostly at the hands of a few cloaked individuals.  The turn of the century (1900) saw the rise of the omnipotent and omniscient Supreme Court.  For that, we have Chief Justice John Marshall to thank, with his decision in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison, as mentioned above.  Thomas Jefferson was president at the time and wrote to Abagail Adams to comment: “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.”

Dave Brenner discusses the Marbury decision excellently in his book Compact of the Republic.  Of course, the “compact” is the Constitution itself.  In the book, Brenner writes: “John Marshall’s Supreme Court became the very representation of what the anti-Federalists feared the most – a judiciary that overstepped its own authority and ruled on state law.  Through sweeping court decisions, the Marshall Court carved out the foundations for how the Supreme Court would be perceived more than 200 years later: as a powerful, decisive oligarchy that overturned state law and bound the states to its opinions.”

The book continues:

One of the last actions of the John Adams administration was to pass the Judiciary Act of 1801. This act would become known by Adams’ political opponents as the ‘midnight appointments’ because Adams literally worked feverishly to write and sign the commissions in the last days of his presidency.  Adams hoped to methodically extend the power of the Federalists by appointing relatively large groups of (Federalist) civil officers that would serve for life. One of the commissions was written for William Marbury, an avowed Federalist who Adams wished to make Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia. 

      The Senate confirmed the appointment of Marbury and many of the other judges. It remains clear that Jefferson, as the newly-inaugurated president, instructed James Madison, the new Secretary of State, not to deliver the remaining commissions to the ‘midnight judges.’  The Constitution did not require him to grant commissions to judges he did not appoint, and it was clear that he did not wish to extend the Federalist judiciary.  After the incredibly contentious 1800 presidential election, Jefferson clearly viewed that contest as a referendum on Federalist rule….

As a result, Marbury brought suit, seeking as his relief a writ of mandamus, an order by the court requiring Jefferson to deliver his commission and thereby allowing him to take his position.

Writing the decision, Chief Justice Marshall held that part of the Judiciary Act – the part that gave rise to Marbury’s commission – was unconstitutional, and therefore he was not entitled to the relief he sought. It would be the first time the US Supreme Court declared an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. The analysis should have ended right there. But Marshall went further. He wrote: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Courts must decide on the operation of each.”  The decision concluded by saying that “a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.” It was the first time a federal court proclaimed judicial supremacy. It was the first time a federal court proclaimed that federal courts have the final say on what the Constitution means.  In other words, this decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and once it has rendered its opinion, all the other branches, the States and the people are to bound by that decision. As the Supreme Court likes to remind everyone: “This principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the County as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system.”  (Cooper v. Aaron, 1958)

Marbury’s declaration of judicial supremacy ignores the opinion in Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance (1795).  [See above].

It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court would not declare another act of Congress unconstitutional until 1957, when it struck down the Missouri Compromise in Dred Scott v. Sanford].  From that point until June of this year, 2016, the high court has only declared approximately 174 acts of the US Congress (whether in whole or in part) to be unconstitutional, which would amount to about 1 statute per year].

Up until this case, most Founding Fathers and many legal scholars understood that the role of the judiciary was to “render” or “offer” an opinion, to be considered by the other branches.  Indeed, when ratifying the Constitution, the understanding was that the Supreme Court would not have a monopoly over its meaning and interpretation.  Alexander Hamilton assured the state delegations 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 the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them….    “The Judicial Branch 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.”

In Federalist No. 49, Hamilton wrote: “As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory, to recur to the same original authority, not only whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of the government, but also whenever any one of the departments may commit encroachments on the chartered authorities of the others. The several departments being perfectly co-ordinate by the terms of their common commission, none of them, it is evident, can pretend to an exclusive or superior right of settling the boundaries between their respective powers; and how are the encroachments of the stronger to be prevented, or the wrongs of the weaker to be redressed, without an appeal to the people themselves, who, as the grantors of the commissions, can alone declare its true meaning, and enforce its observance?”

Again, in Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance, Justice Patterson emphasized: “It is an important principle, which, in the discussion of questions of the present kind, ought never to be lost sight of, that the Judiciary in this country is not a subordinate, but a co-ordinate, branch of the government.”

Without authoritative language in Article III of the Constitution, it was believed that all three branches of the federal government would interpret the Constitution, and check usurpations of power by the other branches. Additionally, some believed that state courts would have the right to determine constitutionality as well.  Article III, Section 1 reads: “The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”  Section 2 lists the types of cases that the courts can hear, including the Supreme Court, and whether those cases have original or appellate jurisdiction).

Indeed, the Constitution does not speak to judicial supremacy, and no one claimed that the federal courts would have a monopoly on determining the constitutionality of all government action.

What the Constitution DOES speak to is Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances.  The officials of two branches are elected by the People. If they are unpopular, the People can use their power at the ballot box. We can see where the Legislative and the Executive can check each other (although clearly, the Legislative branch was vested with the most power; Congress is the People’s house). But nothing makes sense about having a third branch, NOT elected by the people but appointed solely on political and social ideology for a term that doesn’t expire, that is supreme to the others.  What makes sense is that a branch that is not accountable to the people was intended to be exactly what Alexander Hamilton said it would be — the least dangerous branch.

James Madison, the author himself of the Constitution, asked: “I beg to know upon what principle it can be contended that any one department draws from the Constitution greater powers than another in marking out the limits of the powers of the several departments.”   Furthermore, he wrote: “Nothing has yet been offered to invalidate the doctrine that the meaning of the Constitution may as well be ascertained by the Legislative as by the judicial authority.”  Thomas Jefferson was of the same opinion. He wrote: “Each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action.”

These great men recognized the threat to government balance should the view be otherwise.  “As the courts are generally the last in making the decision, it results to them, by refusing or not refusing to execute a law, to stamp it with its final character. This makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper,” wrote Madison.  Jefferson wrote: “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 1820, after witnessing the ready willingness of men once infatuated with the simple language of Constitution and the limited nature of the government, to alter their positions once they sat in a position of power on the Supreme Court, Thomas Jefferson wrote:  “To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.”

More than any other branch of government, the US Supreme Court in particular has undermined and destroyed America’s onetime democratic republic. It has chiseled away and eroded the protections promised and pledged to each American by the Declaration of Independence and the boundaries of government established by the US Constitution adopted by the states in their ratification conventions during the years 1787- 1791.  The justices to the Supreme Court are appointed by the President (approved by the Senate, and are rarely denied, except when they are “Borked”), and enjoy permanent tenure with a fixed income for life. They are selected according to ideology only, in the supreme attempt by a president to determine “policy” from the bench. That is, they want the Court to interpret the Constitution in the most liberal manner possible (according to the “Living Document” approach, which means that the Constitution means whatever they decide it means) or according to the letter and spirit under which it was adopted.  It matters not to those who wish a very liberal reading of the Constitution that there is a legitimate way to alter its meaning and interpretation – and that is according to Article V – the “amendment process.”

Speaking about the “human” nature of justices which can cloud their decisions, one often hears someone comment that President Obama “must have something very damaging on Chief Justice John Roberts” to explain why he would have written two very constitutionally tortuous decisions on the healthcare bill in order to save it for the federal government. Judge Andrew Napolitano opined publically that Roberts used tyrannical power to find ways to save Obamacare.  He said the Court “violated every grant of authority and ignored every historical and reliable treatise on the role and limitations of the Court as a branch of government, including those written by the very men who wrote and ratified the Constitution.”  The justices that look to the actual (intended) meaning and spirit of the Constitution (the “strict-constructionists) wrote dissenting opinions and essentially agree with Judge Napolitano.  Justice Scalia offered the most scathing dissent and in fact ended by simply saying “I dissent” rather than the usual “I respectfully dissent.”  Scalia accused the majority of disregarding the plain meaning of words and re-defining terms and called the decision “pure applesauce.”  He accused his colleagues of doing “somersaults of statutory interpretation” and wrote: Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”  When he wrote “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” he was sarcastically hinting that the statute owes its existence more to the Supreme Court than to Congress.

A few weeks ago (June 26, 2015), in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and therefore protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14thAmendment, and accordingly couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. Journalist Frank Turek explained why the decision rests on a fatal flaw. Back in March, he penned an article (in anticipation of the case) and wrote: “The Supreme Court is about to decide if the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution requires the states to redefine marriage to include same sex relationships. There are several reasons why the answer is no. The most decisive of these reasons is the fact that when the 14thamendment was passed in 1868, homosexual behavior was a felony in every state in the union … If the people of the United States have ‘evolved’ on the issue, then the Constitution provides them with a very clear and fair way for the document to intelligently ‘evolve’….  They need to convince a supermajority of federal and state legislatures to amend the Constitution. That’s the very reason our Constitution has an amendment process!  If we fail to use the amendment process and permit judges to substitute their own definitions and judgments for what the people actually meant when they passed the law in the first place, then we no longer govern ourselves. Why vote or use the political process if unelected justices strike down our laws and impose their own as they go? … It’s a pretext that allows judges to invent rights and impose any moral (or immoral) position they want against the will of the people.”  Liberty interests are those enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights were included in the Constitution to make sure that the federal government (only) would never violate them. The ‘incorporation doctrine’ is the legal doctrine by which the Bill of Rights, either in full or in part, is applied to the states through the 14th amendment’s Due Process clause. But the Supreme Court, even up until the 1960s, has held that not all the interests outlined in the Bill of Rights are to be incorporated. The only sections of the Bill of Rights that federal courts should apply against state action, according to the Court, are those that have been “historically fundamental to our nation’s scheme of ordered liberty.”  When a federal court reviews a case claiming an asserted right is one protected under “substantive due process” (due process involving “liberty interests”), the court usually looks first to see if there is a fundamental right by examining “if the right can be found deeply rooted in American history and traditions.”  Because the incorporation test includes the clarifiers “historically” or “deeply rooted in American history and traditions,” in making its determination, the Court must look back to the era in our country’s history beginning from our founding up until the adoption of the 14thamendment – or it SHOULD.  Just as not all proposed “new” constitutional rights are afforded judicial recognition, not all provisions of the Bill of Rights have been deemed sufficiently fundamental to warrant enforcement against the states.  Although the Supreme Court has stated in prior decisions (see Loving v. Virginia) that marriage is a fundamental right, the historical perspective is that marriage is between heterosexual couples. The idea of a “fundamental right to marry” invites controversy.  The notion of a “fundamental right” implies firm privileges which the state cannot deny, define, or disrespect unless it finds that the challenged law was passed to further a “compelling governmental interest,” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest (ie, the “strict scrutiny” test).  But marriage rules (who can marry, health records required, what formalities are required for marriage, the legal ramifications of marriage, etc) in the United States have always been subject to almost complete state control (pursuant to its traditional police powers).  As the dissent points out: “Removing racial barriers to marriage (Loving v. Virginia) did not change what a marriage was any more than integrating schools changed what a school was. As the majority admits, the institution of “marriage” discussed in every one of these cases ‘presumed a relationship  involving opposite-sex partners.’  In short, the “right to marry” cases stand for the important but limited proposition that particular restrictions on access to marriage, as traditionally defined, violate due process. These precedents say nothing at all about a right to make a State change its definition of marriage, which is the right petitioners actually seek here. What petitioners seek is not the protection of a deeply-rooted right but the recognition of a very new right.”   Re-definition of marriage is something society decides as a whole, through the legislature.  It is not the role of a court. “This Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be. The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise ‘neither force nor will but merely judgment.’”  Another dissenting opinion states: “The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me. The law can recognize as marriage whatever sexual attachments and living arrangements it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance. Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”

On June 26, the day the ruling was released, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a scathing criticism: “The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature. Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.”

Thomas Paine wrote:  “A constitution defines and limits the powers of the government it creates. It therefore follows, as a natural and also a logical result, that the governmental exercise of any power not authorized by the constitution is an assumed power, and therefore illegal.”  The Supreme Court, while improperly assuming the power to decide what powers the states have and what they don’t have and thereby shuffling power from the states to the federal government, has ushered in an era of a technically illegal government.

With respect to the federal judiciary, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “This member of the Government was at first considered as the most harmless and helpless of all its organs. But it has proved that the power of declaring what the law is, ad libitum, by sapping and mining slyly and without alarm the foundations of the Constitution, can do what open force would not dare to attempt.”

Furthermore, he wrote: “The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”  (in a letter to Spencer Roane, 1819)

Similarly, he wrote: “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)

And again, he commented: “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)

Joseph Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), wrote: “The truth is, that, even with the most secure tenure of office, during good behavior, the danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defense of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day.” 

US Rep. Joseph Nicholson (1770-1817) warned:  “By what authority are the judges to be raised above the law and above the Constitution? Where is the charter which places the sovereignty of this country in their hands? Give them the powers and the independence now contended for and they will require nothing more, for your government becomes a despotism and they become your rulers. They are to decide upon the lives, the liberties, and the property of your citizens; they have an absolute veto upon your laws by declaring them null and void at pleasure; they are to introduce at will the laws of a foreign country, differing essentially with us upon the great principles of government; and after being clothed with this arbitrary power, they are beyond the control of the nation, as they are not to be affected by any laws which the people by their representatives can pass. If all this be true – if this doctrine be established in the extent which is now contended for – the Constitution is not worth the time we are now spending on it. It is, as its enemies have called it, mere parchment. For these judges, thus rendered omnipotent, may overleap the Constitution and trample on your laws; they may laugh the legislature to scorn and set the nation at defiance.”

If the federal government acts outside the scope of its delegated and carefully enumerated powers, and has sanction by the Supreme Court, then it’s no better than an armed mob.  While a mob has the power of organized civil unrest and perhaps violence to coerce and strip others of rights and liberty, the government assumes a power of law to coerce and deprive.

By design, the separation of functions into separate branches (Separation of powers) and the system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers provided has always been intended to act as a safeguard against the federal government’s potential tyranny and oppression. The history of the Supreme Court shows how, almost immediately, it began to enlarge certain clauses in the Constitution – the Necessary and Proper Clause, the Commerce Clause, and the General Welfare Clause. Patrick Henry called these “sweeping clauses” because he felt they might ultimately be used by the federal government to sweep authority away from the states.  And he was right. Not only has the Court interpreted the clauses as positive grants of power to Congress but it has also interpreted them as limitations on the States to regulate internally, for their own interests and for their citizens. The Commerce Clause, for example, has been interpreted broadly to give the government extreme powers to regulate commerce, both interstate and intrastate.  It has also been interpreted to prevent states from regulating commerce within their borders and also to prevent individual farmers, for example, from growing too much wheat on his property for fear that he may consume that which he grows and thus not engage in commerce (thus affecting commerce!)  The General Welfare clause has become an independent grant of power to Congress rather than as a statement of purpose qualifying the power to tax.

On July 9, 1868, during the Reconstruction era – the era when the US Congress radically transformed the southern states – the 14th amendment was added to the Constitution. As the nation entered the 20th century, not only did the Supreme Court have the “sweeping” or “elastic” clauses, but all of a sudden, it had this brand new tool in its arsenal to sap power from the States.  Beginning in 1925, it began to incorporate the Bill of Rights as prohibitions against the States, through the Due Process clause of the 14th amendment. In this first case, Gitlow v. New York, the 1st amendment’s Guarantee of Free Speech was applied to the states.  Through the “Incorporation Doctrine,” the Court has held if the federal government cannot burden the rights recognized in those amendments, the states may not either. And so the trend continued, particularly in the second half of the 20thcentury and now into the 21st century. By turning again and again to the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court has overturned state laws restricting the rights of speakers (and most recently, allowed states to censor speech), has struck down state laws permitting prayer in public schools, has forced states to remove Christian symbols from public property and forced them to censor prayer before state and local meetings, has forced them dismiss gender identify in marriage laws and required them to redefine marriage, has forced them to forcibly integrate schools and now to forcibly integrate neighborhoods, and has overturned state laws restricting the rights of criminal defendants, private property owners, gun owners, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and others.  In short, the Supreme Court has used its unchecked power at the bench to use whatever authority or non-authority it wishes in order to neuter the states, recreate the United States as a boundary-less, one-size-fits-all nation, cookie-cutter type nation, and usher in sweeping social change.  Typically today, as we have seen year after year, cases that pit the rights of states against the power of the federal government are usually decided by a closely-divided Supreme Court, with Justice Anthony Kennedy acting as the swing voter. It’s hard to imagine that a mere difference in opinion, represented by a 5-4 majority, can abolish traditional norms and dismantle historic institutions, and thus change the entire social landscape of a nation.

At one point, the clear meaning of the Bill of Rights was recognized, as stated in its Preamble: “The Conventions of 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 order to extend the ground of public confidence in the Government and will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”  The Bill of Rights was clearly intended as a set of limitations on the powers of the federal government.

This point was emphasized by the Marshall Court in 1822.  In the case Barron v. Baltimore, a profitable businessman suffered losses due to the buildup of sand in the Baltimore Harbor and particularly in the area of his wharf, denying him the deep waters he needed.  He then sued the city for the losses caused by the sand-build up.  In the decision, Chief Justice Marshall found that the limitations on government articulated in the 5th amendment were specifically intended to limit the powers of the national government. Citing the intent of the framers and the development of the Bill of Rights as an exclusive check on the government in Washington D.C., Marshall argued that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in this case since the 5th amendment was not applicable to the states.  The decision read:

Had the framers of the Bill of Rights intended them to be limitations on the powers of the State governments, they would have imitated the framers of the original Constitution and have expressed that intention. Had Congress engaged in the extraordinary occupation of improving the Constitutions of the several States by affording the people additional protections from the exercise of power by their own governments in matters which concerned themselves alone, they would have declared this purpose in plain and intelligible language.”

The Bill of Rights was NEVER intended to be applicable to the States. If that was even a consideration at the time that the States were debating whether to adopt the Constitution, they never would have done so.

Despite the efforts by the Supreme Court to twist constitutional jurisprudence, the 14thamendment was not intended to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the states.  It was an amendment passed in 1868 in somewhat conjunction with the 13th amendment in order to make sure that the civil rights of the newly-freed blacks would not be infringed.  Under the original Constitution, citizens of the United States were required to be first a citizen of some State, which is something that blacks could not claim (thanks to the Dred Scottdecision).  This is why it was imperative for the first section to begin with a definition of citizenship so that no State could refuse recognition of newly freed slaves as U.S. citizens and thereby leaving them with less protection and remedies under State laws of justice compared with a white citizen. The goal and function of the 14th amendment’s first section was to give legal validity to the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. The goal of both the Civil Rights Act and then the amendment was to put an end to criminal black codes established under former rebel States that at the time were being administered under policies of President Andrew Johnson.  The author of the language of the 14th amendment, Rep. John Bingham of Ohio admitted that he borrowed the language for both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses from Chapters 39 and 40 of the Magna Charta.  He further explained:

(a)  That the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States refer only to those privileges and immunities embraced in the original text of the Constitution, Article IV, Section II.  [See House Report No. 22, authored by Rep. Bingham on January 30, 1871]

(b)  That “citizens of the United States, and citizens of the States, as employed under the 14th amendment, did not change or modify the relations of citizens of the State and the Nation as they existed under the original Constitution.”

As Alan Mendenhall writes that any debate over the 14th amendment must address the validity of its enactment. “During Reconstruction, ratification of the amendment became a precondition for the re-admittance of former Confederate states into the Union.  [This has been termed] ‘ratification at the point of the bayonet’” because in order to end the military rule imposed by the victorious North during Reconstruction and in order to be allowed to have representatives in Congress, the southern states were required to ratify the 14thamendment. “The conditional nature of this reunification belies the claim that the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified by any mutual compact of the states.”  For this reason, and for many others that are legally, ideologically, and constitutionally sound, it should be emphasized that many learned constitutional scholars are convinced that the 14th amendment was never constitutionally – legitimately – adopted.

Just a few years after the (questionable) adoption of the 14th amendment, in 1873, the Supreme Court heard its first case addressing it, The Slaughterhouse Cases.  The cases were a consolidation of three suits challenging a Louisiana law that established the Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughtering Company and required that all butchering of animals in New Orleans be done in its facilities. The Louisiana law was enacted for health concerns; it wanted to control animal blood that was seeping into the water system.  The law seriously interfered with the businesses of individual butchers who were accustomed to slaughtering animals on their own property.  It not only required them to do their butchering away from the city at the facilities of the Crescent City Livestock Company, but also to pay a fee for doing so. The law essentially created a monopoly. Justice Samuel F. Miller, joined by four other justices, held that the 14thamendment protected the privileges and immunities of national and NOT of state citizenship. The case involved state regulations of slaughterhouses to address the health emergencies resulting from animal blood that was seeping into the water supply. In the opinion, Justice Miller wrote that the 14th amendment was designed to address racial discrimination against former slaves rather than the regulation of butchers:

The first section of the fourteenth article, to which our attention is more specially invited, opens with a definition of citizenship — not only citizenship of the United States, but citizenship of the States. No such definition was previously found in the Constitution . . . . But it had been held by this court, in the celebrated Dred Scott case, only a few years before the outbreak of the civil war, that a man of African descent, whether a slave or not, was not and could not be a citizen of a State or of the United States. This decision, while it met the condemnation of some of the ablest statesmen and constitutional lawyers of the country, had never been overruled.  To remove this difficulty primarily, and to establish a clear and comprehensive definition of citizenship which should declare what should constitute citizenship of the United States, and also citizenship of a State, the first clause of the first section was framed.  That its main purpose was to establish the citizenship of the negro can admit of no doubt.

       The next observation is more important in view of the arguments of counsel in the present case. It is, that the distinction between citizenship of the United States and citizenship of a State is clear recognized and established.  We think this distinction and its explicit recognition in this amendment of great weight in this argument, because the next paragraph of this same section, which is the one mainly relied on by the plaintiffs. . . speaks only of privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, and does not speak of those of citizens of the several States.

      Was it the purpose of the fourteenth amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the Federal government? And where it is declared that Congress shall have the power to enforce that article, was it intended to bring within the power of Congress the entire domain of civil rights heretofore belonging exclusively to the States?  All this and more must follow, if the proposition of the plaintiffs in error be sound. For not only are these rights subject to the control of Congress whenever in its discretion any of them are supposed to be abridged by State legislation, but that body may also pass laws in advance, limiting and restricting the exercise of legislative power by the States, in their most ordinary and usual functions, as in its judgment it may think proper on all such subjects. And still further, such a construction followed by the reversal of the judgments of the Supreme Court of Louisiana in these cases, would constitute this court a perpetual censor upon all legislation of the States, on the civil rights of their own citizens, with authority to nullify such as it did not approve as consistent with those rights, as they existed at the time of the adoption of this amendment. The argument we admit is not always the most conclusive which is drawn from the consequences urged against the adoption of a particular construction of an instrument. But when, as in the case before us, these consequences are so serious, so far-reaching and pervading, so great a departure from the structure and spirit of our institutions; when the effect is to fetter and degrade the State governments by subjecting them to the control of Congress, in the exercise of powers heretofore universally conceded to them of the most ordinary and fundamental character; when in fact it radically changes the whole theory of the relations of the State and Federal governments to each other and of both these governments to the people; the argument has a force that is irresistible, in the absence of language which expresses such a purpose too clearly to admit of doubt.

       We are convinced that no such results were intended by the Congress which proposed these amendments, nor by the legislatures of the States which ratified them.

      The war (the Civil War) being over, those who had succeeded in re-establishing the authority of the Federal government were not content to permit this great act of emancipation to rest on the actual results of the contest or the proclamation of the Executive [the Emancipation Proclamation], both of which might have been questioned in after times, and they determined to place this main and most valuable result in the Constitution of the restored union as one of its fundamental articles.’

In other words, Justice Miller’s point is that the meaning and purpose of the 14thamendment is to negate the Dred Scott decision, legally establish citizenship rights to freed slaves and to ensure the privileges and immunities of national citizenship (as provided in Article IV, Section 2 of the US Constitution].  For example, as Miller explains, “the 15th amendment declares that ‘the right of a citizen of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ The negro having, by the 14th amendment, been declared to be a citizen of the United States, is thus made a voter in every State of the Union.”  The 14th amendment does nothing to alter the relationship between the federal government and state governments, nor does it remove any sovereign state power that existed prior to the amendment.

Clearly, Justice Miller did not believe the federal government was entitled under the Constitution to interfere with authority that had always been conceded to state and local governments.

To be clear that the amendment did not include or intend the “incorporation doctrine,” another proposed amendment during the same era can confirm this.  In December 1875, Senator James Blaine of Maine (rhymes) proposed a joint resolution that would “incorporate” the 1st amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom as a limitation on the States.  It read: “

No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”

The amendment would become known as the Blaine Amendment. The effect was to prohibit the use of any public funds (federal or state) for any religious school. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. This amendment is significant (but ignored by the Supreme Court) because of this implication:  If the 14th amendment was already understood to apply the Bill of Rights against the States, then why would such an amendment even need to be proposed.  Furthermore, it was struck down by the Senate, particularly because it was seen as an improper effort to keep schools free from religion and also because it was seen as targeted religious persecution. The mid-1800s saw a great influx of Catholics into the country. They soon began establishing their own schools, where Catholic children could recite their own prayers and read from their own version of the Bible. The creation of these schools made many Protestants worry about whether the government would start funding Catholic schools and so the Blaine Amendment arose from this concern about the “Catholicization” of American education.

SUPREME COURT - government v. states

As explained above, prior to the 1890s, the Bill of Rights was held only to apply to the federal government, which was a principle solidified even further by the Supreme Court’s decision in 1922 in the case Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Cheek.  The case concerned the state of New York’s ability to restrict freedom of speech.  The decision read: “As we have stated, neither the 14th amendment nor any other provision of the Constitution of the United States imposes upon the states any restrictions about ‘freedom of speech’ or the ‘liberty of silence’; nor, we may add, does it confer any right of privacy upon either persons or corporations.”

In 1930, in the case Baldwin v. Missouri, the Supreme Court found that an inheritance tax imposed on intangible property (bonds and promissory notes) to property in Missouri held by a dying woman in Illinois violated the due process clause of the 14th amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a realist, was becoming worried that the Supreme Court was overstepping its boundaries with respect to the 14th amendment and scolded his fellow bench members in what would be one of his last dissents:

I have not yet adequately expressed the more than anxiety that I feel at the ever increasing scope given to the 14th amendment in cutting down what I believe to be the constitutional rights of the States. As the decisions now stand, I see hardly any limit but the sky to the invalidating of those rights if they happen to strike a majority of this Court as for any reason undesirable. I cannot believe that the amendment was intended to give us carte blanche to embody our economic or moral beliefs in its prohibitions. Yet I can think of no narrower reason that seems to me to justify the present and the earlier decisions to which I have referred. Of course the words due process of law, if taken in their literal meaning, have no application to this case; and while it is too late to deny that they have been given a much more extended and artificial signification, still we ought to remember the great caution shown by the Constitution in limiting the power of the States, and should be slow to construe the clause in the 14th amendment as committing to the Court, with no guide but the Court’s own discretion, the validity of whatever laws the States may pass.

Originalists (those who interpret the Constitution according to the original meaning and intent) and non-originalists alike have been skeptical over the years of the Court’s 14thAmendment substantive due process jurisprudence.  2 of the 3 current “originalist” members of the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, reject the substantive due process doctrine, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has called it a “judicial usurpation” and an “oxymoron.” [See Chicago v. Morales, 1999  andU.S. v. Carlton, 1994]   Many non-originalists, like Justice Byron White, have also been critical of substantive due process. As he made obvious in his dissents in Moore v. East Cleveland and in Roe v. Wade, as well as his majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick (the first Supreme Court sodomy case), he argued that the doctrine of substantive due process gives the judiciary too much power over the governance of the nation and takes away such power from the elected branches of government. He argued that the fact that the Court has created new substantive rights in the past should not lead it to “repeat the process at will.”  He further wrote that guaranteeing a right to sodomy would be the product of “judge-made constitutional law” and would send the Court down the road of illegitimacy.  While originalists generally do not support substantive due process rights, they do not necessarily oppose protection of the rights.  Rather, they believe in the paths that have been traditionally, and constitutionally, provided – through legislation and through the amendment process.

Yet despite the legislative history surrounding the amendment and established jurisprudence regarding the limited reach of the “Privileges and Immunities Clause” in theSlaughterhouse Cases, the Supreme Court would later turn to the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses to strike down state laws.  As mentioned earlier, incorporation of the Bill of Rights into state law began with the case Gitlow v. New York (1925), in which the Supreme Court upheld that states must respect freedom of speech. By the last half of the 20th century, nearly all of the first 8 amendments were found to be incorporated into state law through the 14th amendment. (All except the 3rd amendment, and certain parts of the 5th, 7th, and 8th). The 9th and 10th amendments apply expressly to the federal government, and so have not been incorporated.  Despite its narrowly-intentioned purpose, the 14th amendment is cited in US litigation more than any other amendment.

The use of the 14th amendment as a sword against the States has blurred state boundaries and has all but reduced the state governments to looking after its day-to-day responsibilities. In most cases, the governments have become enforcement arms of the federal government.  What the government can’t do legislatively, judicially, or through executive action, it can accomplish through federal grants and funding (“money with strings”).

Again, the federal government is supposed to legislate only pursuant to the express powers delegated in the Constitution and for the express objects listed in Article I, Section 8.  The 10th amendment emphatically states that all remaining (reserved) sovereign powers remain with each State.  The definition of a “sovereign” includes the understanding that it has a fundamental, unquestioned right to make all necessary laws for those in its jurisdiction, as well as for its self-preservation and self-defense.  Our government system is based on the notion of Dual Sovereignty.  That is enshrined in the 10th amendment.  The federal government is sovereign when it comes to those objects that the States delegated to it under the Constitution and the states are sovereign when it comes to everything else.  In other words, when it comes to legislation and policy, the States have broad power within their individual spheres. Nothing written or originally intentioned in the Constitution (before the Court was given the chance to change things, through interpretation and judicial construction) has changed that balance.  And that is why the federal government has no “Police Powers.”  Only the states have police powers.  What are “police powers”?  In the United States, a state’s police power comes from the 10th Amendment, which gives states the rights and powers “not delegated to the United States.” States are thus granted the power to establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, health, and morality of its people.  The Supreme Court, at least until the turn of the 20th century (1905), has consistently held that the police power of a state embraces any law for such purposes that a state believes are necessary to protect and benefit its people, as long as such law does not infringe on any power delegated to the general government in the Constitution.  Morality is outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court because then the decision rests on the morality of the justices.  Welfare is a state issue, unless it is an issue that touches on “all Americans, in general.”  The Supreme Court must stick to an opinion based on the interpretation of the Constitution.

In 1932, Justice Brandeis, in the case New State Ice Co. v. Liebermann wrote: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” (dissenting opinion).  The term “states as laboratories of experimentation” is, of course, a not only a reference to federalism but a statement of one of its greatest benefits – innovation and solutions. The case concerned the constitutionality of an Oklahoma statute forbidding the manufacture and distribution of ice without a license. Under the challenged statute, the state was authorized to issue such a license only upon a showing “of the necessity for a supply of ice at the place where it is sought to establish the business.”  The plaintiff was denied a license because it was deemed that there was a sufficient supply.  A six-Justice majority invalidated the statute under the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment as an unwarranted interference with the right to engage in private business in a lawful occupation.  In his dissent, Justice Brandeis laid out some of his growing frustrations with the Court’s substantive due process jurisprudence.  The full comment reads: “There must be power in the States and the Nation to re-mould, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions to meet changing social and economic needs. I cannot believe that the framers of the 14thamendment, or the States which ratified it, intended to deprive us of the power to correct the evils of technological unemployment and excess productive capacity.  To stay experimentation in things social and economic is a grave responsibility. Denial of the right to experiment may be fraught with serious consequences to the nation. It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

In 1982, in the case Southcenter Joint Venture v. National Democratic Policy Committee, Justice Utter wrote:  “Federalism allows the states to operate as laboratories for more workable solutions to legal and constitutional problems.”  In that case, the Washington Supreme Court held that the Washington Constitution’s protection of free speech does not extend to privately owned shopping malls, thus not adopting the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence as relating the Free Speech from the federal perspective. Justice Utter criticizes the majority for borrowing heavily from federal precedents, contending that the Washington courts need not follow the Supreme Court’s lead.

In 1995, in United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that criminalized the possession of a gun within 1000 feet of a school.  At the end of his concurrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy professed respect for areas of traditional state concern and the role of the states as “laboratories of democracy”:

While it is doubtful that any State, or indeed any reasonable person, would argue that it is wise policy to allow students to carry guns on school premises, considerable disagreement exists about how best to accomplish that goal. In this circumstance, the theory and utility of our federalism are revealed, for the States may perform their role as laboratories for experimentation to devise various solutions where the best solution is far from clear.

        The statute now before us forecloses the States from experimenting and exercising their own judgment in an area to which States lay claim by right of history and expertise, and it does so by regulating an activity beyond the realm of commerce in the ordinary and usual sense of that term. Justice Kennedy, in his concurrence, argued that the Commerce Clause should be read to allocate to the states exclusively the power to regulate gun use in school zones. This result, he wrote, is dictated by federalism, under which “the States may perform their role as laboratories for experimentation.”

In another case before the Supreme Court that same year, U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton, Justice Kennedy described federalism as the Framers’ attempt to “split the atom of sovereignty.”  The case involved the (constitutional) qualifications for congressional office and the time, place, and manner of elections.

There are some state officials who urge their state legislatures to acknowledge their sovereign status and to look more to their own constitutions rather than to US Constitution. For example, Justice Bablitch of the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote in 1991: “The Wisconsin Constitution is not and has never been intended to be a potted plant. It can serve, if this court chooses to give it life, as a bedrock of fundamental protections for all Wisconsin citizens…. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, if not encouraged, the use of state constitutions for just such a purpose. It is consistent with our deeply held notions of federalism, our notions that states should be encouraged to be the laboratories of the nation.. .. We may, in many if not most cases, reject an alternative interpretation [ie, construe the state constitution differently from the federal].  But we should at least look.”

To the Supreme Court justice, the historical record is of little importance or concern.  To be sure, the historical record hardly, if ever, mattered in their deliberations.  Rarely are the original debates and writings of the ratification conventions cited.  They have only been cited 122 times total in the over 30,000 cases they’ve ruled upon in the 225 years the high court has been deciding cases. They were only cited 30 times in the first 100 years of the Court’s existence – in the formative years. Sadly, they haven’t been consulted as the authority on the meaning and intent of the Constitution as they clearly are.  In fact, when the Supreme Court goes so far to side with Alexander Hamilton, an outlier at the Constitutional Convention (who wanted a monarchy), an outright enemy of the Constitution (wanted a consolidated government of unlimited powers), an ideological enemy of the very men who wrote the Constitution (went up against them during George Washington’s term with respect to the taxing power and the elastic clauses), and contradicted in words and actions the very assurances he wrote in the Federalist Papers, knowing that the Union would be predicted on those assurances, as opposed to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, other Founders, and the leaders in the state conventions, there can be no other explanation than that the Court will do whatever it takes to seek the ends it desires.  If the original Convention (Philadelphia, 1787) and ratification debates were cited, they would have “served to refute every conflicting claim regarding the elastic clauses,” as Dave Brenner wrote, and would have served to refuse every illegitimate power grab they sanctioned.

With almost every decision, and certainly with decisions handed down during the Obama administration, the Supreme Court’s mantra has been: “WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY.”  It has shown that it will go through incredible lengths and legal acrobatics to save a federal law. It will distort the Constitution in ways the American people – including the intelligent ones – would never imagine.  Yet it will never do the same for the states.  While enlarging every possible delegation of power for the government, it has never once enlarged the states’ domain under the 10th amendment.  While reading every clause and every delegation in the broadest sense possible for the government, it has never once done so for the states.  And therefore, the delegate balance of power has shifted further and further towards Washington DC – a body of lawmakers and politicians who sit far away from, and secluded from, the communities where citizens live.

The shift is so striking and alarming that citizens are urging their state legislatures to assert state sovereignty and state representatives are submitting such bills and resolutions. These measures assert state sovereignty under the 10th amendment, re-assert their position that the government is one of delegated powers only, and emphasize that powers not delegated are reserved to the state.  Some of the measures go farther and announce that if the federal government continues to usurp powers, those efforts will be met with nullification and interposition.  Some states have already enacted various nullification bills. Indeed, nullification has never been such a popular topic. By mid-2009, ten states had already introduced bills and resolutions declaring and reaffirming their sovereignty, and another 14-15 states were considering it.  New Hampshire’s resolution (HCR 6) included a rather interesting and long dissertation and culminated in the statement “That any Act by the Congress of the United States, Executive Order of the President of the United States of America or Judicial Order by the Judicatories of the United States of America which assumes a power not delegated to the government of United States of America by the Constitution for the United States and which serves to diminish the liberty of the any of the several States or their citizens shall constitute a nullification of the Constitution for the United States of America by the government of the United States of America. (The resolution was not passed by the state house, as it was deemed to be not judicious to do so).  Montana’s bill was very similar and it almost passed.

The shift is also so striking and so alarming that Americans are finally beginning to imagine how the colonists felt under British rule and why they would urge for separation from the mother country.  In some states, talk of secession is a regular part of talk radio (Vermont, for example), and has been for the past several years. In 2012, after a New Orleans resident petitioned the White House to allow Louisiana to secede from the United States, 69 separate petitions, spanning all 50 states, were filed with the White House (the “We the People” online petition system).  The site was launched on November 7, 2011, the day after Obama was elected for his second term.  President Obama had promised to respond to each petition that collected at least 25,000.  As of the deadline for the petitions, 47 states easily reached the threshold and some collected significantly more.  Texas, for example, collected over 100,000 signatures.  Most petitions made an excellent case for secession and separation from the federal government. States like New York explained that it would be far better off, economically especially, if it broke legal ties.

President Obama indeed responded.  Essentially the answer was NO….  A state has no right to secede. It is stuck with the federal government, whether it likes it or not.  This is the response the White House issued on January 11, 2013:

Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States “in order to form a more perfect union” through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it. As President Abraham Lincoln explained in his first inaugural address in 1861, ‘in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.’ In the years that followed, more than 600,000 Americans died in a long and bloody civil war that vindicated the principle that the Constitution establishes a permanent union between the States. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Supreme Court confirmed that ‘the Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.’

        Although the founders established a perpetual union, they also provided for a government that is, as President Lincoln would later describe it, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ — all of the people. Participation in, and engagement with, government is the cornerstone of our democracy. And because every American who wants to participate deserves a government that is accessible and responsive, the Obama Administration has created a host of new tools and channels to connect concerned citizens with White House. In fact, one of the most exciting aspects of the We the People platform is a chance to engage directly with our most outspoken critics.”

Essentially, the site, the initiative by the government was a ruse; a mere “feel-good” initiative.  It gave the people the illusion that they flex their muscles and their voice and have their frustrations heard and internalized.  As Commodus’ sister Lucilla told her conniving brother in the movie GLADIATOR: “Give the people their illusions.”  As we watched the freight train that is the Obama administration forge full speed ahead with his plans, we sadly note that the voices of frustration never gave our president a moment’s pause.

The people used to believe in our system of checks and balances – especially the courts – to reign in the violent swings in government from side to side (extreme left and extreme right) and restore a tolerable balance in government. The people used to believe they had a voice in their government through the ballot box. But being constrained by an aggressive two-party system where neither party offers voters any hope of reigning in the tentacles of government or divesting it of the objects of its spending. What fringe groups fail to achieve at the ballot box, they can achieve through the activism of progressive courts.  Judges no longer uphold or strike down legislation, based on their legitimacy; for quite some time now, they’ve also been in the business of legislating from the bench.  For the most part, federal courts have become the enemy of the people.  Representatives run for congressional office, and even for president, on a platform of promises, pretending that their allegiance is with their people. And then when they take their oath and assume their office, their allegiance changes. They clearly become agents for the federal government, putting its goals above those of their constituency.  Political leaders move along ideological line, even within the same party, making sure that grassroots voices and other voices of frustration can never translate into political weight. Mark Levin commented once that political leaders act like Josef Stalin, cleaning out all opposition in the Kremlin. Power corrupts.  There is a reason that Americans have never viewed the federal government with more distrust.  Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, only about 22% of Americans feel they can trust their government.  That percentage is less for Congress alone.  Less than a quarter of Americans believe that their representatives take their concerns to heart.  Less than that believe they can change the course their government is on.  [See Pew Research].

When you have a candidate who runs not on economic promises but on a promise “to protect your phone” (that is, to protect your right not to have the government collect your messages), then you know that all is certainly not well in the United States. When people are fighting an ideological war with their government leaders over its right to censor your speech, to tell you that you can’t display a flag, to force you to violate your sacred rights of conscience, to control your healthcare decisions, to force you to purchase its insurance policies, to put you on a Homeland Security Department watch list simply because you adhere to traditional notions of government and society, to outfit the IRS with 16,000 new goons to investigate you to enforce Obamacare alone, to question your right to own and possess a gun for your safety, and to force you to live in a one-size-fits-all, borderless society that defies laws of science and human nature, then you know your government has become hostile to the reasons it was created in the first place.

Frustration with the federal monopoly is growing.  Limits need to be restored and reliable Checks and balances need to be put into place. Otherwise, our sunset years will be spent reminiscing about what it was once like to live in the greatest, freest country on Earth.

Right now, we have to ask: Who watches the watchers?  The Supreme Court is untouchable. Its decisions are final; unreviewable. They stand as precedent (stare decisis) for as long as the justices themselves, and themselves alone, decide.  The Court’s nine justices decide the fate of both federal and state law, but of course, as it is a branch of the federal government, sitting in Washington DC, immersed in its politics and in closer contact with DC officials than state players, it is impossible to see how it can be an impartial tribunal. The federal government will never divest itself of its powers, even though most of them are misappropriated, stolen from the States and the People.

As explained earlier, the three branches of government have worked to support one another rather than check one another. The US Constitution was written in plain and simple language so that every American could understand it and understand the boundaries of government on his or her life. People know when their government – this government – has transgressed limits and has overstepped its authority.  When ordinary people can figure it out and then watch as the branches do what they do to allow the conduct to go forward and affect their lives, they have no confidence in their government structure. They don’t believe there are reliable procedures in place to arrest the growing evil and tyranny that we all understand government has displayed. Liberty, which is defined as the extent to which people can exercise their freedoms, is secure when there are such procedures in place and government can be contained.  The transformation of government from that of limited powers to one of vast concentrated powers by its decisions has undermined the liberty interests of the People. The most important and powerful check on the abuse of government, as discussed above, is the separation of government powers among two sovereigns; dual sovereignty.  The 10th Amendment reminds us of the balance of power: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  By pitting the two sovereigns against one another, the balance is maintained.  Each one jealously guards and protects its sphere of power.  The only problem is that one sovereign has a monopoly over the determination of its sphere. The federal government has made itself the exclusive and final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself.  And as such, its need for power and its discretion – and not the Constitution – have been guiding those decisions. The other sovereign, the States, have no chair at the table.  And the only way our system can work — that is, work to protect the rights of the people rather than promote its own interests and longevity – is if the states get that chair at the table.

“If it be conceded that the sovereign powers delegated are divided between the General and State Governments, 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…. The existence of the right of judging of their powers, so clearly established from the sovereignty of States, as clearly implies a veto or control, within its limits, on the action of the General Government, on contested points of authority . . . . to arrest the encroachment.”   [John C. Calhoun, South Carolina Expositionand Protest, 1828]

In light of this mandate, and in light of the fact that it has been the Supreme Court, as the self-appointed final tribunal to decide on constitutional matters which has done the most harm to the precarious balance built into our government structure, the following amendment should be proposed and passed in order to effect meaningful change to the federal judiciary and to our government structure in general.  In short, the amendment proposes to alter the manner in which justices are appointed to the Supreme Court.  With the proposal, justices will no longer be appointed by the President but instead will be appointed by each state.  Rather than 9 justices, the membership of the Court will increase to 50, thereby giving the tribunal more credibility. The common – or federal – government will finally have a representation of the states in, to ensure fairness and equal representation of sovereign interests.

It is a moral imperative that we should seek to restore the proper balance.

How fitting, and ironic it should be to end this proposal for a constitutional amendment with a line from Chief Justice Roberts in his infamous healthcare decision (NFIB v. Sibelius, 2012):  “The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”

References:
James Madison, Report on the Virginia Resolutions, Jan. 1800; Elliot 4:546–50, 579.

House of Delegates, Session of 1799–1800. (aka, Madison’s Report of 1800).  Referenced at:  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s42.html

Allen Mendenhall, “Is the Fourteenth Amendment Good,” Mises Daily, January 2, 2015.  Referenced at:  https://mises.org/library/fourteenth-amendment-good

P.A. Madison, “Historical Analysis of the Meaning of the 14th Amendment’s First Section,”Federalist Blog, last updated August 2, 2010.  Referenced at: http://www.federalistblog.us/mt/articles/14th_dummy_guide.htm

Frank Turk, “Why the 14th Amendment Can’t Possibly Require Same-Sex Marriage,”Townhall, March 17, 2015.  Referenced at: http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2015/03/17/why-the-14th-amendment-cant-possibly-require-samesex-marriage-n1971423/page/full

Prudential Ins. Co. of America v. Cheek, 259 U.S. 530 (1922)

Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833)

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

Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance, 2 U.S. 304, 308 (1795).  Referenced at: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/2/304/case.html

The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873)  – The first US Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th amendment

New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932)

Baldwin v. Missouri, 281 U.S. 586, 595 (1930)

Southcenter Joint Venture v. National Democratic Policy Comm., 780 P.2d 1282 (Wash. 1989).

United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995)

State v. Seibel, 471 N.W.2d 226  (Wis. 1991) (Bablitch, J., dissenting)

US Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 US 779 (1995)

Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386 (1798)

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999)

U.S. v. Carlton, 512 U.S. 26 (1994)

Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977)

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)   [A woman has the fundamental right to have an abortion]

Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986)   [A gay man has no fundamental right to engage in sodomy and states are allowed to enact laws to prohibit the conduct. The Court will protect rights not easily identifiable in the Constitution only when those rights are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”]   Note: This case was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas, 2003, in which the Court said it had taken too narrow a view of substantive due process and liberty interests in the earlier case and now (that the strong voice in the Bowers case, Justice White, was no longer on the Court), the Court agreed that intimate consensual sexual conduct is a liberty interest protected by the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment].

Obergefell v. Hodges, June 26, 2015.  (Gay Marriage decision of 2015).    Referenced at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf

Dave Brenner, Compact of the Republic, Life and Liberty Publishing, Minneapolis, MN (2014).

The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Bill of Rights Institute.  Referenced at: http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/primary-source-documents/virginia-and-kentucky-resolutions/

Edwin S. Corwin, “A Basic Doctrine of American Law,” Michigan Law Review, Feb. 1914; pp. 247-250.  Referenced at:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1276027?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.  [Addresses the case Calder v. Bull].

Jefferson Davis  [The Abbebille Review, June 2014.  http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/the-doctrine-of-states-rights/

“Quotes from the Founding Fathers,” RenewAmerica, March 13, 2009.  Referenced at: http://www.renewamerica.com/article/090313

James A. Gardner, “The “States-as-Laboratories” Metaphor in State Constitutional Law,”Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 30, No. 2.  Referenced at:http://scholar.valpo.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1888&context=vulr

James G. Wilson, “The Supreme Court’s Use of the Federalist Papers,” Cleveland State University, 1985.  Referenced at: http://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1265&context=fac_articles

The White House Online Petition System, “Our States Remain United.  January 11, 2013.  Referenced at:  https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/our-states-remain-united

New Hampshire’s State Sovereignty Resolution (HCR 6 – “A Resolution Affirming States’ Rights Based on Jeffersonian Principles”)  –  http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2009/HCR0006.html

John C. Calhoun, South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828).  Referenced at: http://www2.bakersfieldcollege.edu/kfreeland/H17a/activities/Ch11docs.pdf

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, press release (June 26, 2015).  Referenced at: http://gov.texas.gov/news/press-release/21131

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1791-1792).  Referenced at: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1786-1800/thomas-paine-the-rights-of-man/

The Federalist Papers.  Referenced at:  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp

* Federal mandates:  Federal mandates include requirements imposed on state, local, or tribal governments or on entities in the private sector that are not conditions of aid or tied to participation in voluntary federal programs.]

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

The Constitutionality of Gun Control Laws

Second Amendment - Poster (vulture)    by Diane Rufino

On January 16, 2013, President Obama signed 23 Executive Orders which he claimed are aimed at reducing gun violence.  Now begins the initiative to bring his comprehensive gun control scheme to Congress. The cornerstone of the scheme will include more inclusive and scrutinous background checks and a ban on assault weapons.  The National Rifle Association, however, doesn’t buy the story that the administration is selling. In fact, it believes there is a more ominous plan down the road.  The NRA is using a Justice Department memo it obtained, dated January 4, 2013 and written by one of the Justice Department’s top crime researchers, to argue that the Obama administration itself doesn’t believe that its proposed gun control plans will work to cut down on violence. Rather, it believes it will ultimately need to seize firearms and require national gun registration.  These, of course are ideas that the White House has not proposed and claims it does not support.

At this point, President Obama wants to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that exceed 10 rounds.  He and his fellow gun law proponents argue that no one should need more than that.  And the President is pushing for universal background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Today, checks are only mandatory on sales by federally licensed gun dealers, not transactions at gun shows or other private sales.

The Memo critiques the effectiveness of gun control proposals, including many that were put forward by the executive orders and now by proposed legislation, such as the registration and the assault weapon and ammunition magazine bans.

The memo says straw purchases and gun thefts are the largest sources of firearms used in crimes, and says such transactions “would most likely become larger if background checks at gun shows and private sellers were addressed.”  (Straw purchases are when criminals and those who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm have another person make the purchase for them). The memo says requiring background checks for more gun purchases could help, but also could lead to more illicit weapons sales. Criminals are not going to submit to background checks honestly.  They will continue to use false names and offer false information.

At the same time, President Obama is looking to stack the federal courts with anti-gun judicial nominations. For example, he is presently pushing Caitlin Halligan, currently the NY’s Solicitor General and an attorney with a long track record in favor of gun control, for the DC Court of Appeals. In fact, one Senate Republican said that she is the most “anti-Second Amendment nominee Obama has ever put forward.”  The final transformation of America will eventually occur at the hands of federal court judges who haven’t studied the writings of the Founding Fathers and who don’t understand the scheme of ordered liberty they envisioned for this country.

On January 18, Beaufort County, NC was the first local entity in the nation to take a stand against the President’s agenda to regulate gun rights and to stand up for the phrase in the Second Amendment which reads “The right of the people to have and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners passed the strongest Second Amendment Protection Resolution to date in North Carolina. Other counties in the state have followed suit, including Pitt, Franklin, Lenoir, and Cherokee – with varying degrees of strength and effectiveness). And still there are other counties who would like to adopt resolutions but have reservations as to what they can do legally.

The bottom line is that state and local elected representatives, as well as state and local civil servants, swear an oath to the US Constitution. They pledge a solemn vow, invoking the name of our Creator, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  The oath is not to support a “living constitution”; nor is it a promise to support any and all actions of the federal government, which is organized under the Constitution. The oath is to obey and support only lawful orders. After all, a legal framework with defined limitations is what is at the heart of our constitutional republic. In America, government is tasked with constraining people in unlawful conduct, but it is also obliged to constrain itself as well.  The framework was designed for a specific purpose, and that purpose is articulated most splendidly in the Declaration of Independence – for the free exercise of our God-given rights and liberties.

In helping those counties, those local Sheriffs, and those state officials assess the legality of taking a position seemingly antagonistic to the federal government, there are a series of questions to ask and answer.

Is the Particular Federal Law Supreme? –

The issue at stake is which federal laws are to be considered “Supreme,” and thus trump state law where there is any conflict and preclude any state from interfering with or frustrating the federal scheme. The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, clause 2) reads: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made 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.”

The general rule – the correct rule – is that constitutional federal law trumps state law where it conflicts. The state law must therefore yield to the federal law.  This was the government’s argument when it challenged Arizona’s immigration bill, SB 1070.  In that case, the Supreme Court found that the government is indeed supreme on immigration, but nonetheless upheld parts of the Arizona bill because it concluded that they furthered and assisted the federal scheme.

The problem is the incorrect assumptions  too many government officials make – at both the federal and state level.  These assumptions are as follows: (1)  That every federal law is supreme law of the land under the Supremacy Clause; and  (2) That every federal law is constitutional.

Blind allegiance to the perceived supremacy of the federal government is disloyalty to the Constitution and to the United States.  In fact, it is a crime. Chief Justice John Marshall explained this in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison (1803):

With respect to the Constitution’s requirement, in Article VI, that federal officials, including judges, take an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”)  “Why does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it?

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. 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 he made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank.

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 it is closed upon him, and cannot be inspected by him?  If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe, or take this oath, becomes equally a crime.”

Chief Justice Marshall used the example of a federal judge, but mockery and disloyalty apply to all those officials who accept and pledge the responsibility that the oath demands.

Is it Constitutional? –

In looking at federal law, the first question you should ask is whether it is constitutional.  Because under the Supremacy Clause, only laws made in pursuance to the Constitution are supreme.  If they are not, they are not only unconstitutional but they are also not supreme law.

As we all know, individuals are free to do whatever they want, unless they are constrained by the law.  Government, on the other hand, can only act pursuant to the powers they are expressly delegated in the Constitution.  Government needs express authority to act, and when it acts pursuant to powers not delegated or oversteps powers that are intended to be limited, then those acts have no legitimacy and are not enforceable upon the people. That is the contract that the people have with the federal government, under the US Constitution.  Same goes for the states and the state constitutions.

So, the first question to ask is whether the particular federal law has a proper constitutional foundation.  All of our Founding Fathers agreed that any act that violates the Constitution is null and void and not a valid, enforceable law.  Our entire Constitution consists of limitations and a series of checks and balances. Our Founders talked at length about the checks and balances in the Constitutional Convention. They talked about the separation of powers and the jealous arrangement whereby each branch would jealously guard their own powers from the encroachment of any of the other branches. They would gladly do so to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful in the exercise of government and  too powerful over the other two branches.  Furthermore, our Founding Fathers build our government on a federal scheme. We are a federation of sovereign states and not a consolidation of people.  Our system is federal and not national.  In our federal scheme, as embodied by the Tenth Amendment, the precious balance of power and limitations imposed by the Constitution was intended to be kept in check by the tension presented by having two sovereigns – or Dual Sovereignty.  A “sovereign” possesses supreme power.  A sovereign state, for example, has the supreme power to legislate for its safety, security,  people, and best interests.  Under our system of Dual Sovereignty, the federal government is deemed to be sovereign (again, the Supremacy Clause) when it acts pursuant to its constitutionally limited and legitimate powers (17 or so in Article I, Clause 8, and about 21 total in the entire Constitution).  It is a limited sovereign.  The states, on the other hand, as articulated in the Tenth Amendment, retain and reserve the great bulk of remaining powers to legislate and regulate within their territories and are therefore sovereign with respect to those powers.  James Madison addresses the nature of the division of powers best in Federalist Papers 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.”

Even the design of the government itself was premised on the federalist scheme so that the States themselves would intimately provide a necessary check on the power of the federal government. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when James Madison initially proposed that the federal government be given a “negative” (ie, “veto” power over acts of the state legislatures that it deemed frustrated the goals of the government, the states successfully countered back with the exact opposite – a state “negative” over the federal government. In discussing the second branch of the legislature – the Senate – the delegates specifically talked about this branch providing an immediate “negative” (ie, a “veto” power) over the actions of government. The Senate was intended to be the physical presence of the States within the structure of the government, always able to protect their interests and protect their sovereign powers.  (Of course, this notion of a state “negative” is the basis of the doctrine of nullification). The states provided a federal balance in other aspects as well.

In Federalist No. 45, Madison explained:

“The State governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former. Without the intervention of the State legislatures, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all. They must in all cases have a great share in his appointment, and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it. The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures. Even the House of Representatives, though drawn immediately from the people, will be chosen very much under the influence of that class of men, whose influence over the people obtains for themselves an election into the State legislatures. Thus, each of the principal branches of the federal government will owe its existence more or less to the favor of the State governments, and must consequently feel a dependence, which is much more likely to beget a disposition too obsequious than too overbearing towards them.”

In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton articulated the danger in overstepping the bounds of federal power and federal authority:

“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.”

Recently, Tennessee’s Attorney General, Robert Cooper, wrote a legal opinion stating that Tennessee’s    proposed piece of legislation, SB0250 (“An Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4,

Chapter 54, relative to the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act”), is unconstitutional because it violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.  SB0250 was written to expand and amend the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act to address federal actions in the state. Specifically, the bill adds the following section to the Firearms Freedom Act:

(a) The general assembly declares that any federal action prohibited by this chapter relating to firearms, firearms accessories or ammunition, whether made in Tennessee or not, is not authorized by the United States constitution and violates the restrictions contained therein and is hereby declared to be invalid in this state; that said federal action shall not be recognized by this state; and that said federal action is rejected by this state and shall be null and void and of no effect in this state.

(b) Any federal action shall be deemed an intentional violation of state sovereignty and shall be unenforceable within the borders of Tennessee if the federal action does or attempts to:

(1) Infringe on, ban, regulate, or restrict state government, local government or civilian ownership, transfer, possession or manufacture of a firearm, a firearm accessory or ammunition in this state;

(2) Require any state government, local government or civilian owned firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition in this state to be registered or tracked in any manner; or

(3) Impose federal taxes, fees or any other charges on any state government, local government or civilian owned firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition that are payable to any government entity.

(c) No public official, employee, or agent of this state or any of its political subdivisions shall:

(1) Act to impose, collect, enforce, or effectuate any penalty in this state that violates the public policy set forth in this section; or

(2) Cooperate with or assist with the enforcement of federal action prohibited by this chapter.

Attorney General Cooper wants the legislature and the People of the Tennessee to believe that the following federal acts and constitutional and therefore supreme:  (i) a ban on firearms; (ii) tracking of ammunition; (iii) federal taxes on firearms and their accessories;….

Where exactly in the Constitution did the states delegate the power to regulate firearms?  It doesn’t. What the States did demand, on the other hand, was the Second Amendment, which states that: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Some argue that the federal government has some regulatory authority under the Commerce Clause, but that argument would be wrong.  Again, we have the Second Amendment (and in fact, the Bill of Rights in general).  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights states the intention of the States in adopting them:  “The Conventions of 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: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”   As we all know, the States refused to ratify the US Constitution until a Bill of Rights, proposed by the States themselves, was added.  So we see that the Bill of Rights, and in this case the Second Amendment, puts further restrictions on the federal government. These “declaratory and  restrictive clauses” further restrain the government in the exercise of their delegated powers.  As an example, Congress was delegated the power to regulate interstate Commerce (“to make regular”).  After the Bill of Rights was added, the government was prohibited from using the Commerce power to infringe on the right of the people to have and bear arms.

The Second Amendment states specifically and succinctly – “the right of the people to have and bear arms shall not (must not) be infringed.”  There simply is no wiggle room.  The federal government, therefore, has no authority to regulate in this area and thus, the federal acts mentioned above are not constitutional.

Does the Federal Judiciary Have Exclusive Power to Make Determinations of Constitutionality? –

The second question to ask is which branch/tribunal/entity has the exclusive power to make the determination of constitutionality.  The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison(1803) has delegated that power to itself.  It was not delegated to the federal courts in the US Constitution.  Nowhere in Article III is the Supreme Court given “exclusive” jurisdiction.  Alexander Hamilton wrote about the weight to be afforded the federal judiciary 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 the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will 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 whatever. 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.

If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two (the legislative and the judicial branches), 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.”

Under the contractual nature of the Constitution (ie, the States negotiated the terms of the Constitution and were its signers, thus agreeing to be bound by its terms including the surrender of some of their sovereign power which is the necessary “detriment” or “consideration” which contract law uses to find a valid contract), the states are the legitimate parties and are therefore in the legal position to explain the terms under which they signed.  In other words, the States are in the proper position to define the extent of the powers that they delegated to the federal government.  The government itself is not a party to the contact and in fact, is its creation.  And as the plain words of the Constitution express and the Federalist Papers explain, the right to be the exclusive interpreter of the Constitution was not delegated to the Supreme Court (or the federal courts in general).

Mr. Robert Cooper, the Tennessee AG, mentions the possibility that the federal acts might be unconstitutional.  At the end of the brief he filed, Cooper wrote: “While the bills themselves declare that certain federal firearms regulations are unconstitutional, that determination  rests with the federal judiciary and not a state legislature.”  He rests his assertion on the Marbury v. Madison case, which was mentioned above.  But he misconstrued Chief Justice Marshall’s ruling.  Chief Justice Marshall merely asserted in that case that the Supreme Court CAN, in fact, nullify an act of Congress by declaring it unconstitutional. But nowhere does he assert that the Court has exclusive authority to rule on constitutionality.  The discussion of this topic is addressed below:

“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 had 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. 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.

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.

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.”

The Marbury v. Madison case sent up a red flag to Thomas Jefferson who was perhaps our most important and prolific Founding Father.  In reaction to Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Marbury, Jefferson grew terribly suspicious of the Supreme Court and warned that judicial review would lead to despotism. He wrote:

“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.”

Attorney General Cooper also cited Cooper v. Aaron, a Supreme Court case from 1958 which held that state government officials are bound to comply with Supreme Court rulings and court orders based upon the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. This case addressed the remnants of the Jim Crow South and Arkansas’ refusal to enforce the desegregation mandate of Brown v. Board of Education (Cases I and II, 1953 and 1954, respectively).  Cooper referenced Cooper v. Aaron to assert the supremacy of the federal judiciary and to affirm that its rulings cannot be challenged by any state.

Again, Cooper v. Aaron rests on a fallacious or bastardized interpretation of Marbury. Such a notion obliterates the notion of a constitutional system and makes the Supreme Court the sovereign.  I shouldn’t even have to point out the absurdity of the Court making itself supreme.

Edwin Meese, Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, said this about theCooper decision: “The logic of Cooper v. Aaron is at war with the Constitution, at war with the meaning of the rule of law.”  We need look no farther than the Dred Scott case (1857).  The Dred Scott decision not only denied even free blacks citizenship but went on to declare all those of African descent to be inferior and suitable only to serve others. To see the inherent flaw in this idea of judicial supremacy would be to accept that the Dred Scottdecision was the legitimate law of the land.  Abraham Lincoln would not accept it.  In response to the ruling, he said: “If the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole of the people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that imminent tribunal.”

If we accept the misguided notion that the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the meaning and intent of the Constitution, then we have to accept that the decision in Dred Scott is the law of the land (which is still good Supreme Court jurisprudence by the way since it was only overturned legislatively, if you will, by constitutional amendment).  The justices in that case didn’t interpret the Constitution; rather, they used the bench for a most insidious function – to make social policy.  Dred Scott was a slave who traveled with his slave master from a slave state to a non-slave state.  He then challenged his bondage.  The question, therefore, before the Court was not only whether he should be considered free but whether he even had the legal right (as a black man) to challenge his slave status.  Justice Taney wrote the opinion:

“We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.

It is true, every person, and every class and description of persons who were, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, recognized as citizens in the several States became also citizens of this new political body, but none other; it was formed by them, and for them and their posterity, but for no one else. And the personal rights and privileges guaranteed to citizens of this new sovereignty were intended to embrace those only who were then members of the several State communities, or who should afterwards by birthright or otherwise become members according to the provisions of the Constitution and the principles on which it was founded. It was the union of those who were at that time members of distinct and separate political communities into one political family, whose power, for certain specified purposes, was to extend over the whole territory of the United States. And it gave to each citizen rights and privileges outside of his State which he did not before possess, and placed him in every other State upon a perfect equality with its own citizens as to rights of person and rights of property; it made him a citizen of the United States.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to determine who were citizens of the several States when the Constitution was adopted. In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.”

When the Supreme Court itself acts outside and above the bounds of constitutional power, which party can declare such?

That was a problem that Thomas Jefferson’s addressed  in 1804: “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.”

The fact is that the men who drafted our founding documents – James Madison and Thomas Jefferson – did not subscribe to the notion that only the federal courts could determine constitutionality.  Jefferson wrote this: “The several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government;….  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.”  [Resolutions of 1798].

James Madison wrote: “The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal, above their authority, to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and consequently, that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.”  [Report of 1800]

The Impact of the American Revolution on the Drafting and Intent of the Second Amendment –

A third inquiry might be a look at the (historical) events that shaped and guided the Founders and the drafters of the Second Amendment.

As we all remember from our early American history, the Boston Tea Party prompted a very strong response from the King of England.  It would be the series of intolerable acts known as the Coercive Acts which would offend so greatly the colonists notion of freedom that independence became the only solution.

All of the particular provisions of the Coercive Acts were offensive to Americans, but it was the Quartering Act and the possibility that the British might deploy the army to enforce them that primed many colonists for armed resistance. The Patriots of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, resolved: “That in the event of Great Britain attempting to force unjust laws upon us by the strength of arms, our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles.”

The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, had forbidden town meetings from taking place more than once a year. When he dispatched the Redcoats to break up an illegal town meeting in Salem, 3000 armed Americans appeared in response, and the British retreated. Gage’s aide John Andrews explained that everyone in the area aged 16 years or older owned a gun and plenty of gunpowder.  They could not tolerate this.

Military rule would be difficult to impose on an armed populace. Gage had only 2,000 troops in Boston. There were thousands of armed men in Boston alone, and more in the surrounding area. Gage’s response to the problem was to deprive the Americans of gunpowder.

Although colonial laws generally required militiamen (and sometimes all householders, too) to have their own firearm and a minimum quantity of powder, not everyone could afford it. Consequently, the government sometimes supplied “public arms” and powder to individual militiamen. Policies varied on whether militiamen who had been given public arms would keep them at home. Public arms would often be stored in a special armory, which might also be the powder house.

Before dawn on September 1, 1774, 260 of Gage’s Redcoats sailed up the Mystic River and seized hundreds of barrels of powder from the Charlestown powder house.  The “Powder Alarm,” as it became known, was a serious provocation. By the end of the day, 20,000 militiamen had mobilized and started marching towards Boston.  In Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, rumors quickly spread that the Powder Alarm had actually involved fighting in the streets of Boston, but accurate reports were provided just in time and war was temporarily averted.  The message, however, was unmistakable: If the British used violence to seize arms or powder, the Americans would treat that violent seizure as an act of war, and would fight.

Tension continued to grow as the British continued to seize firearms and gunpowder and block the importation of arms and ammunition to America in an effort to disarm the rebellious colonists.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry would give his famous fiery speech to the Virginia legislature, which had to meet in secret at St. John’s Church in Richmond because the British were clamping down on their rights to govern themselves. In that speech, he delivered those famous words: “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”  What was the reason for those words?  Well, at the time, King George had declared all 13 North American colonies to be in a state of open rebellion. Lord Dunsmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, had ordered all the gunpowder in Williamsburg seized and stored aboard his ship anchored in the Virginia harbor, to keep it out of the hands local patriot forces. In his speech, Henry argued that the British plainly meant to subjugate America by force. Because every attempt by the Americans at peaceful reconciliation had been rebuffed, the only remaining alternatives for the Americans were to accept slavery or to take up arms. And so he urged that Virginia organize a militia to stand up to the British.

In just 3 weeks, the American Revolution would begin.

On the night of April 18, the royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage was ordered by King George III to suppress the rebellious Americans, had ordered 700 British soldiers to confiscate weapons stored in the village of Concord and capture Sons of Liberty leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both reported to be staying in the village of Lexington.

As word of General Gage’s intentions spread through Boston, it prompted the patriots to set up a messaging system to alert the countryside of any advance of British troops. Paul Revere arranged for a signal to be sent by lantern from the steeple of North Church – one if by land, two if by sea.  On the night of April 18, 1775 the lantern’s alarm sent Revere, William Dawes and other riders on the road to spread the news. The messengers cried out the alarm, awakening every house, warning of the British column making its way towards Lexington. In the rider’s wake there erupted the peeling of church bells, the beating of drums and the roar of gun shots – all announcing the danger and calling the local militias to action. In the predawn light of April 19, the beating drums and peeling bells summoned between 50 and 70 militiamen to the town green at Lexington. As they lined up in battle formation, they heard the sound of the approaching Redcoats. Soon the British column emerged through the morning fog.  At Lexington Green, one eyewitness report claims that British Major Pitcairn ordered the Bostonians to “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men.”  At that moment a shot was fired. It may very well have been accidental. Nonetheless, hearing the shot, British troops fired upon the small group of militia, killing eight men and wounding ten more. The militia then retreated into the woods.  And so started the first battle in the American Revolutionary War.

What transpired after the day of “the shot heard ’round the world” was perhaps more significant in some respects. That event was Gen. Gage’s attempt to confiscate the arms of all the inhabitants of Boston. Disarming the militiamen in the countryside had a plausible purpose—the Crown was the “legitimate” government and the militiamen were engaged in rebellion. But to disarm every peaceable inhabitant of Boston without them having committed any unlawful act or threatening any transgression was conclusive evidence to the colonists, including many not yet committed to fight for either side, that their fundamental rights as Englishmen were being destroyed.

What happened in the days leading up to skirmish on Lexington Green, when the British sought to disarm the colonists, and what happened in the days following Lexington and Concord, with the wholesale confiscation of firearms from the people of Boston, remained fresh in the minds of our Founders and framers.  It would have a profound impact on them and play a major role in the construction and adoption of the Second Amendment.

The Meaning of the Second Amendment –

And a fourth question to ask is what was the meaning of the Second Amendment when it was passed (because each of our first ten amendments holds a special place in America’s understanding of ordered liberty as the nation was congealed in 1788-89). The following are crucial points to be considered:

(a)  The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The amendment, as written, is very clear.  First the right to keep and bear arms is not subject to any qualification, conditions, or degrees. Secondly, the right shall (ie, “must”) not be infringed. What is it about the phrase “shall not be infringed” that the government and critics fail to understand?  Since the amendment is a prohibition on government, it is a restraining order on government.  Henry St. George Tucker, a lawyer who put his career on hold to fight the American Revolution, set out in 1790 to write an American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England.  In 1803 he completed and published it.  Commonly referred to as “American Blackstone,” it was the definitive treatise on American law and became essential reading for every lawyer of the day.  In explaining the American right to keep and bear arms, Tucker wrote these words:  “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed and this without any qualification as to their condition or degree, as is the case in the British government.”  In the appendix to his text, Tucker provided a fuller explanation of the Second Amendment:  “This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty…. The right of self defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms, is under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction….”

(b)  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights, as with any preamble, states the intent and purpose of the particular amendments. The Preamble reads:

The Conventions of 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: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

         RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution..

On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to ratify, thus giving the Bill of Rights the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to make it legal.

(c)  The Second Amendment doesn’t grant rights; it recognizes rights. The Second Amendment, which embodies the most fundamental right of self-defense, self-protection, and self-preservation, was considered by our Framers as obvious, “natural,” and a “self-evident truth.”  The Declaration of Independence articulates clearly that while individuals have the inalienable right of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, they also have the natural right to defend them. In fact, it is precisely the primary role of government. The Declaration states: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –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…”     According to the Declaration, the rights of self-defense, self-protection, and self-preservation are as fundamentally and inherently endowed as the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The framers, tasked with defining the foundation of our new nation, were immersed in the prevailing republican thought of the day, as articulated in the writings of Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others, which discussed “natural rights” in some detail.  Others, known as the anti-Federalists, argued that at least some of the rights needed to be made explicit in the Bill of Rights to avoid having future generations with less understanding of republican theory weaken in their defense of those rights. The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right of individuals under the theory of democratic government. This was clearly the understanding and intent of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution and was a long-established principle of English common law at the time the Constitution was adopted, which is considered to be a part of constitutional law for purposes of interpreting the written Constitution.  Alexander Hamilton summed the position well in Federalist Papers No. 28: “If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair.”  [http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm%5D

 (d)  The Second Amendment also recognizes the right, power, and duty of the people to organize into militias and defend their state.  Indeed, at the time the Second Amendment was adopted, it was understood that the people were the militia. George Mason said it best during the debates in the Virginia Ratification Convention on June 16, 1788: “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people..” [See Elliot’s Debates, Vol. 3]  In Federalist Papers No. 29, Alexander Hamilton indicated that a well-regulated militia is the people in a state of preparedness. Tench Coxe, in his article “Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution,” (written under the “A Pennsylvanian”) in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789, explained: “Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article [the Second Amendment] in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”

And what was the purpose of a state militia?  Our Founding Fathers understood an armed citizenry was necessary for more than just protecting the state’s security and interests. US Rep. Elbridge Gerry (Mass) spoke on this topic when debating the Second Amendment from the floor of the Congress after James Madison proposed the draft of the Bill of Rights: “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”  [See Annals of Congress at 750; August 17, 1789]  George Mason repeated the same admonition in the Virginia Ratification Convention (June 1788): ” … to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

And Noah Webster effectively articulated the principles underlying our Constitution and Bill of Rights in his publication An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).  He wrote: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe.  The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.” But perhaps no one is more qualified to explain the intent of the Second Amendment than Thomas Jefferson who was the man responsible for finally convincing James Madison to draft them. Jefferson wrote: “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” In 1787, he wrote: “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” [Letter to William Stephens Smith; See Jefferson’s Papers 12:356]  Even Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story understood the purpose of an armed citizenry (and hence the intent of the Second Amendment): “The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpation of power by rulers. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally … enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”  [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, p. 3:746-7, 1833

(e)  While the U.S. Constitution does not adequately define “arms,” we have a clear understanding of its historical context.  The Federalist Papers and other writings of the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries mention “arms” to suggest it has a rather broad definition. For example, in Federalist No. 29, Alexander Hamilton emphasized the deterrent effect of a citizen militia against the U.S. Army: “If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens.” A reading of Federalist No. 26 will help us understand that when our Founders envisioned the fundamental right of individuals to take up arms against an oppressive government, they understood that sometimes the oppressor was protected by state-of-the-art weaponry (as were the British forces). In other words, the body of citizens must be armed and disciplined accordingly to be a formidable force against a tyrannical government. When the Second Amendment was adopted, the common understanding was that “arms” comprised those weapons that could be carried and discharged/operated by hand, including muzzle-loaded muskets and pistols, swords, knives, bows with arrows, and spears. However, a common-law definition reads “light infantry weapons which can be carried and used, together with ammunition, by a single militiaman, functionally equivalent to those commonly used by infantrymen in land warfare.” That certainly includes modern rifles and handguns, full-auto machine guns and shotguns, grenade and grenade launchers, flares, smoke, tear gas, incendiary rounds, and anti-tank weapons.  It would not, however, include heavy artillery, rockets, or bombs, or lethal chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The standard, therefore, has to be that “arms” includes weapons which would enable citizens to effectively resist government tyranny.  The rule should be that “arms” includes all light infantry weapons that do not cause mass destruction.  If we follow the rule that personal rights should be interpreted broadly and governmental powers narrowly, which was the intention of the Framers, instead of the reverse, then “arms” must be interpreted broadly.  [http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm%5D

(f)  Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States is the federal government vested with the authority to impose acts, laws, executive orders, rules, or regulations relating to civilian firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition. The right to “keep and bear arms” is absolute and not subject to any qualification, conditions, or degrees.  [Although some may argue that the government has some regulatory power under the Commerce Clause, the Bill of Rights was adopted as a further limitation on this power; See (b)]  Samuel Adams emphasized this point in Massachusetts’ Ratification Convention (January 1788): “That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms … ”  Thomas M. Cooley, renowned jurist (1824-1898), wrote in his text General Principles of Constitutional Law, Third Edition [1898]: “The right [to bear arms] is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the laws, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon…. If the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for the purpose. But this enables the government to have a well regulated militia; for to bear arms implies something more than mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them in a way that makes those who keep them ready for their efficient use; in other words, it implies the right to meet for voluntary discipline in arms, observing in so doing the laws of public order.”

In light of the authority above, it would appear that all federal acts, laws, executive orders, rules or regulations tending to infringe upon the right of law-abiding persons to have and bear firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition are in violation of the 2nd Amendment, as well as the 10th Amendment and Supremacy Clause, of the US Constitution.

The Heller and McDonald Decisions –

It just so happens that at this point in time, the Supreme Court has confirmed the original meaning of the Second Amendment.

The District of Columbia v. Heller (2009) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) cases marked the first time in about 70 years that the Supreme Court was willing to consider the meaning of the Second Amendment.  For the first time, the Court was presented with the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms for private purposes.  In Heller, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self- defense. The Court based its holding on the text of the Second Amendment and its history, as well as applicable language in state constitutions adopted soon after the Second Amendment.

The McDonald case came to the high Court from the Seventh Circuit, where the panel of judges held that states had the right to enact gun bans because the Fourteenth Amendment did not require the states to respect the rights protected under the Second Amendment.  Luckily, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit.  It held that, indeed, the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states.  In analyzing whether a particular right protected in the Bill of Rights applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court has come up with a threshold determination and that question asks whether the particular right is one that is “fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty” or one that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”  If the Court determines that it is so, then the Court will declare that the particular right is appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.  Based on the review done in Heller and the decision it reached, the Court in the McDonald case recognized that the right to self-defense was one such “fundamental” and “deeply rooted” right.  Justice Clarence Thomas went through a detailed analysis to explain just how deeply-rooted that right is.

Prior to the Heller case, the last case the Supreme Court heard on the Second Amendment was United States v. Miller, in 1938.  It was a questionable decision then and unfortunately, because of the Court’s doctrine of stare decisis (“that which has been decided”: otherwise known as court “precedent”), the Court was still bound by it.  Actually, the argument was never asserted in Miller that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arm. Yet the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld a federal gun control law and said that the Second Amendment only protects arms that are reasonably related to the maintenance of a state militia.

Since that horrible decision, federal circuit and federal district courts have ruled on dozens and dozens of cases in which gun control laws were challenged under the Second Amendment and they have consistently read the Second Amendment to protect a state’s right to preserve a militia and have it armed…  but not as an individual right to bear arms for private purposes unrelated to militia services.  So, while the militia theory of the Second Amendment, or collective rights theory of the Second Amendment, had only been vaguely mentioned by the Supreme Court in Miller, it had become the dominant law of the land in the federal courts in the 70 years prior to Heller.

In the meantime, scholars began to study the Second Amendment and its history.  Over the years, much historical, academic, scholarly material were collected which completely undermined the argument that the Second Amendment protected only a state’s right to preserve a militia and not an individual’s right to bear arms. Over the last 30 years there has been literally a tidal wave of scholarship looking into the original meaning and purpose of the Second Amendment.  The overwhelming majority of studies have sided with view that our Founders sought to protect the individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense.  And it was this new-found understanding and appreciation of the Second Amendment that guided the Court’s decision in Heller and then McDonald.

In February 2003, the six residents of Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, a local law (part of the District of Columbia Code) enacted pursuant to District of Columbia home rule. This law restricted residents from owning handguns, excluding those grandfathered in by registration prior to 1975 and those possessed by active and retired law enforcement officers. The law also required that all firearms including rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit. The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, however reversed the dismissal and struck down provisions of the FCRA as unconstitutional. In 2008, the case (District of Columbia v. Heller) came before the Supreme Court.  The issue presented was whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.  The Court held that it does and as such, the DC ordinance which banned the possession of handguns in the home was struck down as an unconstitutional violation of a fundamental and essential individual right.

In 2009, 75-year-old Chicago resident Otis McDonald took the initiative to protect himself from the increased threat of crime in his neighborhood of Morgan Park. Since buying a house there in 1971, he watched as the neighborhood fell into the hands of gangs and drug dealers. His lawn was regularly littered with refuse and his home and garage had been broken into a combined five times, with the most recent robbery committed by a man McDonald recognized from his own neighborhood.  An experienced hunter, McDonald legally owned shotguns, but believed them too unwieldy in the event of a robbery, and wanted to purchase a handgun for personal home defense.  But he was unable to do so under Chicago’s city-wide gun ban. Pursuant to the ban, all handguns were prohibited (after 1982) and all firearms had to be registered. In 2008, he joined three other Chicago residents in filing a lawsuit challenging the ban as an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment.  The case (McDonald v. City of Chicago) was heard by the Supreme Court in 2009.

The question presented to the Court was whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is incorporated as against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities or Due Process Clauses.  In other words, the Court was asked to determine whether the US Constitution protects the Second Amendment against infringement or violation by the States.  Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas answered in very strong terms that it does.

American Thinker gave an excellent presentation of the case: “The most important job of the government is the protection of its people. That protection involves their physical safety and the security of their property. It means providing police presence to deter criminals before they commit crimes and harsh penalties for offenders whose crimes were not deterred. The fact is that most crimes cannot be deterred because the bad guys don’t generally mug people in front of the officer on patrol. Since the police can’t be everywhere, people need a way to protect themselves.  And that was how Otis McDonald felt when he walked into a Chicago police station and applied for a .22-caliber pistol two years ago. As the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Chicago’s 28-year handgun ban, McDonald was a sympathetic figure: an elderly man trying to protect himself from violent hoodlums preying upon his neighborhood.  He was also a neighborhood activist, proposing alternative policing strategies to make his neighborhood safer; his efforts earned him death threats from local gangs.”

The Supreme Court was given statistics from the Chicago Police Department which showed that the City’s handgun murder rate actually increased since the ban was enacted and that Chicago residents now face one of the highest murder rates in the country.  They were given statistics to show that guns increasingly end up in the hands of criminals, gang members, and others who are mal-intentioned.  It is also a statistical fact that legal gun owners are exponentially less likely to commit a crime.  Bob Weir, a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police offered his views on gun control laws: “We have often heard a scenario in which a law-abiding citizen, unable to wait for assistance any longer, took action against an intruder and lived to talk about it. One of the scariest scenes I can imagine is one in which I’m awakened in the middle of the night by strange sounds coming from another room of the house and I have no weapons to protect my family….  During my twenty years as a cop, I took a lot of guns off the bad guys, none of which were registered. How could they be? Bad guys aren’t allowed to have registered guns! Only good guys have that right. Hence, when you make gun possession illegal for the good guys, the bad guys will be the only ones with guns.”

It is also worth noting that in the weeks leading up to the decision, Chicago suffered a surge in gun violence, with between 26-55 shootings per week and many of them being fatalities.  Bob Weir commented: “We’ll never know if some of those lives would have been spared had the victims been armed. But one thing seems obvious: If the guys with illegal guns knew that the rest of the population was unarmed, they could kick down any door and have their way with the residents. The only thing stopping them now is the knowledge that many people have guns and are willing to use and capable of using them to protect their families. We’ve all heard tape recordings of people who dialed 911 as someone was breaking into their home only to be told that the police may be several minutes away.  In cases where the caller was armed, shots could be heard as the intruder gained entry and tried to attack the caller.”

Police will often joke that many street gangs are equipped with enough firearms to take on the Taliban. In New Jersey, a Trenton-area gang threatened war on the Trenton Police. They sent an anonymous letter to the Trenton Times warning that at the hour of their choosing, they would bomb the building. Eventually the Trenton police would uncover an incredible arsenal of weapons that the gang had compiled. No gun control law could have prevented that arsenal. Such laws only strengthen the black market. Furthermore, our law enforcement and criminal justice system has often proven inadequate to protect law-abiding citizens who become victims of crime and inadequate to disarm the thugs that roam freely throughout the country.

To make matters worse, the DC Court of Appeals had handed down a ruling in 1981 that should weigh heavily on anyone even contemplating giving up gun rights to the government. It held that a city has no legally enforceable duty to protect its citizens from crime. That case was Warren v. District of Columbia.  It involved three women who were living in a townhouse in DC. Under DC law at the time, they were forbidden not only to own handguns but also mace, pepper-spray, and other non-lethal tools of self-defense.  Late one evening in March 1975, two thugs broke into the townhouse and attacked the woman downstairs at the time. They began beating her and then raped here. The other two women, hearing the struggle, called 911 and were told that police were being sent.  As the transcript later showed, the dispatcher reported only that there was a domestic disturbance. The squad car that responded simply drove past the residence, didn’t observe any sign of a disturbance, and drove on his way. The women upstairs then called 911 again and were again told that help was on its way. This time, the dispatcher didn’t even bother to send out a radio call.  Believing their friend was dying, the women called down to the intruders, telling them that “Police are on their way!” Instead of fleeing, the thugs went upstairs and forced the women at knifepoint to the apartment below.  For the next 14 hours, the three women were held captive, raped repeatedly, beaten, abused, and forced to commit sex acts upon one another for the intruders’ entertainment. Luckily, the women were spared their lives.

The women sued the District of Columbia for failing to provide police assistance and lost. The DC Court of Appeals agreed and ruled that the city had no legal duty to protect its citizens, even when its employees have given assurances that help would be provided.  Under the ruling, the government is free from responsibility in protecting its citizens even as it is also free to ensure that they cannot protect themselves either.

The Heller and McDonald cases have undermined the government in one aspect of theWarren decision. The government cannot prevent law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to keep and bear arms for self-protection. The Supreme Court, in those cases, held that the right to own a gun (bear arms) is a fundamental right, one that is firmly rooted in our history and heritage, and as such, citizens cannot be denied this right by the federal government or by any State. But we are standing on the precipice of putting the government back in the exact position it was under Warren – absolved from responsibility to protect us and free to prevent us from protecting ourselves.

But permitting the government to condition, qualify, and regulate the right of self-defense will put the power back in the hands of criminals, will put law-abiding citizens at risk, and will set the country on the same path of government gun control that has defined the tyrannical regimes of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The bottom line is that the measures are unconstitutional and the power to stand up to such unconstitutional measures lies with the States and with each state and local elected official and state and local civil servant who has taken a solemn vow to support and defend the US Constitution.  Unfortunately, as John F. Kennedy once said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The American people are not going to stand by peacefully and allow their right of self-defense to be eroded. Government must serve the rights of the people.

References:
Tennessee SB0250 –  http://legiscan.com/TN/text/SB0250

Michael Maharrey, National Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, addresses the arguments made by Tennessee Robert Cooper in his brief against SB0250 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65o_vo8nUIU

The Intent of the Second Amendment –  http://constitution.org/leglrkba.htm

Federalist No. 45 –  http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa45.htm

Federalist No. 78 –  http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa78.htm

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

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 373 (1856)

McDonald v. City of Chicago, 153 U.S. 535 (Oct. 2009)

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. __ (2008)

Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981)

Bob Weir, “Thanks to Otis McDonald and the Supremes,” American Thinker, July 3, 2010.

James Madison: Report on the Virginia Resolutions  (Jan. 1800)  –  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s42.html

Thomas Jefferson: Resolutions Relative to the Alien & Sedition Act (November 10, 1798) –http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s41.html

The Legal and Historical Roots of  the Second Amendment (video) –http://www.secondamendmentdocumentary.com/

The Police Have No Legal Duty to Protect Its Citizens (from the legal documentary “In Search of the Second Amendment”) –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb3rAglRsqU

Alo Konsen, “The Second Amendment Definition of ‘Arms’,” 2003.  Referenced at:http://brainshavings.com/the-right-to-keep-and-bear-what/

Publius Huldah explains why federal gun control laws are unconstitutional –http://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/publius-huldah-shows-federal-gun-control-is-unlawful/

“Obama Gun Control Ban: Confiscate Firearms, NRA Claims,” Newsday New York, January 23, 2013.  Referenced at:   http://newyork.newsday.com/news/nation/obama-gun-control-plan-seize-firearms-nra-claims-1.4697883

“Here are Obama’s 23 Executive Orders,” Forbes, January 16, 2013 –  http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/01/16/here-are-the-23-executive-orders-on-gun-safety-signed-today-by-the-president/

The 23 Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make itwidely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effectiveuse of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to developinnovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

Reference:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/01/16/here-are-the-23-executive-orders-on-gun-safety-signed-today-by-the-president/