NULLIFICATION: The Power to Right Constitutional Wrongs

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

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

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

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

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

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Jefferson wrote:

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

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, he wrote:

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

In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, James Madison wrote:

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

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

NULLIFICATION - When Injustice Becomes Law, Nullification Becomes a Duty

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Nullification v. Article V Constitutional Convention: Where is the Honest and Open Debate?

Mark Levin (with smirk)

by Diane Rufino, January 5, 2014

When the original 13 states came together to discuss the possibility of establishing a confederacy, at the urging of Benjamin Franklin (“Join or Die”), they did so with a great deal of hope, but also a great deal of trepidation. The hope was that a federal government might be formed that could provide greater security and stability to the colonies.  The hope was that it might handle the few issues that were common to all the states but which could not be dealt with by the states individually. The fears, on the other hand, were that this government might come to gain an enormous amount of power; that this power might come to be concentrated in the hands of very few; and that the federal government as a whole might end up overreaching its authority and end up meddling in affairs that ought rightly to be left to the states and the various local governments (if not individuals themselves).

The Constitution created a limited government, which is evidenced in four obvious ways: (1) The Constitution was framed in such a way that the power of the federal government would be split between three separate branches – each acting as a check-and-balance on the power of the others; (2) The power of the federal government as a whole was limited to certain specific areas;(3) Government power structure was split between two co-equal sovereigns – the individual states and the federal government (emphasized or restated by the Tenth Amendment); and (4) A Bill of Rights (“further declaratory statements and restrictive clauses to prevent the government from misconstruing or abusing its powers..”) to put further limitations on government power.

For 200 years, this structure has been eroded, always at the hand of the federal government. After numerous overt acts of usurpation, constitutional amendments, and loose interpretations of the Constitution itself, each of the branches of government has managed to seize more power than it was ever meant to have. Now, as we see and feel most acutely, the federal government involves itself in matters that are neither federal in nature nor are subject to its jurisdiction.  It insinuates itself into virtually every aspect of public and private life, including political, economic, and social.  When we listen to a young mother in Alabama cry because the new healthcare mandate has increased her insurance premiums each month by over $100 and has presented her with a dilemma that is causing her great heartache and distress (she wants to work and do the right thing, but if she does, she can’t afford the increase in healthcare premiums, and so she is faced with the choice that puts and her family on welfare), then we understand how destructive the government has become and how far it has strayed from its intended purpose.

Those who support Nullification have put the alert out years ago. They assert that the federal government can rightfully be divested of such unconstitutional power by having the States call the government out on its conduct and refusing to enforce unconstitutional laws. But Nullification is not a term or a concept that the average American has heard before and so it has not been roundly embraced.  But it is catching on finally. In fact, support is growing exponentially. As more and more people (Thomas Woods and Mike Church, for example) and groups (The Tenth Amendment Center) educate those who are willing to listen, audiences are finding that it makes sense and is indeed a constitutional and viable remedy.

And then there are others, such as famed radio personality, Mark Levin, who advocate for a different approach.  Mr. Levin recently wrote a book entitled “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic,” in which he proposes what he believes is the ONLY viable solution to restoring constitutional governance, which is an Article V State Convention.

In his book, Mr. Levin writes:

I undertook this project not because I believe the Constitution, as originally structured, is outdated and outmoded, thereby requiring modernization through amendments, but because of the opposite – that is, the necessity and urgency of restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.  The Statists have been successful in their century-long march to disfigure mangle the constitutional order and undo the social compact. To disclaim the Statists’ campaign and aims is to imprudently ignore the inventions and schemes hatched and promoted openly by their philosophers, experts, and academics, and the coercive application of their designs on the citizenry by a delusional governing elite. Their handiwork is omnipresent, for all to see – a centralized and consolidated government with a ubiquitous network of laws and rules actively suppressing individual initiative, self-interest, and success in the name of the greater good and on behalf of the larger community. The nation has entered an age of post-constitutional soft tyranny

Unlike the modern Statist, who defies, ignores, or rewrites the Constitution for the purpose of evasion, I propose that we, the people, take a closer look at the Constitution for our preservation.  The Constitution itself provides the means for restoring self-government and averting societal catastrophe in Article V.  Article V sets for the two processes for amending the Constitution, the second of which I have emphasized in italics:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….”

Importantly, in neither case does the Article V amendment process provide for a constitutional convention. The second method, involving the direct application of two-thirds of the state legislatures for a Convention for proposing Amendments, which would thereafter also require a three-fourths ratification vote by the states, has been tried in the past but without success.  Today it sits dormant.

The fact is that Article V expressly grants state legislatures significant authority to rebalance the constitutional structure for the purpose of restoring our founding principles should the federal government shed its limitations, abandon its original purpose, and grow too powerful, as many delegates in Philadelphia and the state conventions had worried it might.   [Levin, pp. 1-13]

Levin then goes on to propose a set of eleven (11) Amendments – which he terms “Liberty Amendments” – that an Article V Convention might want to propose in order to rebalance the government (the creature created by the Constitution):  These proposed Amendments include:  (1) term limits for members of Congress; (2) the election of Senators to be returned to state legislatures; (3) term limits for Supreme Court Justices (and the opportunity for federal and state legislatures to override Supreme Court decisions with a supermajority); (4) limits on federal spending (with an eye to curbing federal debt); (5) limits on taxation; (6) limits on how much power Congress can delegate to the federal bureaucracy; (7) limiting the federal government from interfering with economic activity that does not pertain to interstate or international trade; (8) requiring the government to compensate property owners for the devaluation of property caused by regulations; (9) allowing the states to amend the constitution directly (without having to go through Congress); (10) granting states the right to overturn the laws and regulations of Congress with a supermajority;  and (11) requiring voters to produce photo identification at election booths.

Notice that Mr. Levin writes that “in neither case does the Article V amendment process provide for a constitutional convention.”  Why would he include that statement?  Both conservatives and liberals have routinely referred to an Article V “Convention for proposing Amendments” as a “Constitutional Convention” or Con-Con for well over 30 years, and likely much longer.  Is it possible that they ALL have mistakenly assumed that the words “constitutional convention” are found in Article V?  Is it possible the government itself is also mistaken?  When the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on November 29, 1979, regarding the role of Congress in calling an Article V convention, the official name of the hearing as published by the Government Printing Office in a 1,372-page document was “Constitutional Convention Procedures.” This hearing was held because the number of states petitioning Congress to hold an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment was rapidly approaching the necessary 34 states.

And what about the “populist lovefest,” better known as the Harvard Conference on the Constitutional Convention, held at Harvard on September 24-25, 2011, which was cosponsored by the Harvard Law School and (surprisingly) by the Tea Party Patriots as well?  Of course, Levin’s book “The Liberty Amendments” hadn’t been published yet, so the people at Harvard and the Tea Party Patriots didn’t realize that they were using a forbidden phrase, “constitutional convention,” to refer to an Article V convention.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a look at that Conference and watch videos of the various panel discussions to understand why holding a constitutional convention could open Pandora’s Box.  The host of the Conference, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig, and the moderator of the Closing Panel, Richard Parker, both committed populists, advocated for greater democracy in our country. They believe more and more issues should be decided by popular vote.  (Parker can trace his political history back to the 1960s organization, Students for a Democratic Society).  They believe that holding an Article V constitutional convention will help get them where they want to go.

Perhaps the reason Levin wants to deny the validity of the phrase “constitutional convention” is that one of the most persuasive arguments against holding such a convention is based on the contention, the criticism, and indeed the fear that such a convention could become a “runaway” convention based either on the inherent nature of “constitutional conventions” or on what transpired at our original “Constitutional Convention” in 1787.

How is it that Mr. Levin is convinced that an Article V convention could never become a “runaway” convention?  On page 15 of his book he writes: “I was originally skeptical of amending the Constitution by the state convention process. I fretted it could turn into a runaway convention process…. However, today I am a confident and enthusiastic advocate for the process. The text of Article V makes clear that there is a serious check in place. Whether the product of Congress or a convention, a proposed amendment has no effect at all unless ‘ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof…’  This should extinguish anxiety that the state convention process could hijack the Constitution.”

So, in this excerpt, Levin admits that he shares the concerns of others that an Article V convention could turn into a “runaway convention.”  Yet he is confident that he has overcome those concerns with his belief that “Article V makes clear that there is a serious check in place,” namely the requirement of ratification of amendments by three-fourths of the states. There are several reasons why Levin should not be so assured that this is a “serious check” in place to stop a runaway convention.  Larry Greenley points these reasons out in his article, “Levin’s Risky Proposal: A Constitutional Convention”:

First, the “ratification by three-fourths of the States” requirement of Article V already has failed to prevent undesirable amendments from being ratified. Consider the 16th Amendment (the federal income tax), the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators), and the 18th Amendment (prohibition). All three were ratified by at least three-fourths of the states, but most constitutionalists would likely agree that all three were bad amendments and should not have been ratified. In particular, many constitutionalists think that changing the method of choosing U.S. senators from appointment by state legislatures to direct election by the voters in each state as provided by the 17th Amendment has been extremely damaging to our constitutional republic. James Madison spoke ever so strongly for this important design feature at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, in his rebuttal of Patrick Henry who accused the Constitution of potentially granting too much power to the federal government.  “The deliberations of the members of the Federal House of Representatives, will be directed to the interests of the people of America. As to the other branch, the Senators will be appointed by the State Legislatures, and secures AN ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE OF THE FORMER ON THE LATTER.”  The Senate was a direct “federal” element within the very design of the federal government. Its power to refuse to approve a legislative act of the House that is against the reserved powers and interests of States is precisely what the doctrine of Nullification provides.

Second, it is hard to predict just how much pressure the American public can put on state legislators or state convention delegates to get some future undesirable amendment or amendments ratified by the three-fourths rule. We all know what happens when big money and special interests groups send out their tentacles. When big money, special interest groups, and political power pour in to try to influence the delegate-selection process and the convention business itself, the people lose their voice.  Experience has shown that we can’t trust public servants once they go behind closed doors. We saw what happened with the healthcare bill.

Third, it is quite possible that an Article V constitutional convention would specify some new method of ratification for its proposed amendments. After all, our original Constitutional Convention in 1787, an important precedent for any future constitutional convention, changed the ratification procedure for the new Constitution from the unanimous approval of all 13 state legislatures required by the Articles of Confederation to the approval by 9 state conventions in Article VII of the new Constitution.

But for those who are not quite comforted by Levin’s argument that Article V provides the very means to control its convention, he offers still another method to ease our concerns about a runaway convention. On page 16, he quotes from Robert G. Natelson, a former professor of law at the University of Montana: “[An Article V] convention for proposing amendments is a federal convention; it is a creature of the states or, more specifically, of the state legislatures. And it is a limited-purpose convention. It is not designed to set up an entirely new constitution or a new form of government.”  Too many others, including notable intellectuals, constitutional scholars, and even former US Supreme Court justices beg to disagree on this point.

Many constitutionalists will also agree that Levin is encouraging Americans to play with fire by promoting a constitutional convention. Just because the Constitution authorizes Article V conventions to amend the Constitution doesn’t mean that it would be wise at this time in our nation’s history to call one.

While pro-Article V convention enthusiasts tell us that this is a great time for an Article V convention because the Republican Party controls 26 of the 50 state legislatures (the Democrats control 18, five are split, and one is non-partisan), and therefore could surely block the ratification of any harmful amendments proposed by an Article V convention, they are omitting from this analysis that very many of the Republican state legislators are not constitutionalists, and could end up in alliance with Democrats to ratify some harmful amendments. Not to mention the likelihood that constitutionalists would be in the minority at the convention for proposing amendments itself.

There is no doubt that Mr. Levin has done his homework with respect to the Article V Convention.  But it is clear from the strong and sometimes rabid response to his book that he has not made the case strong enough to quell the legitimate fears of many who believe such a Convention is akin to opening a can of worms. I use the expression because it means: “something that (often unexpectedly) sets in motion that which has unanticipated and wide-reaching consequences.”  Or as TN Tenth Amendment Center leader Michael Lotfi puts it: “An Article V constitutional convention of the states is not the right answer; it is the bullet to a loaded revolver pointed at the Constitution.”  Knowing that the Nullification movement is gaining momentum, Levin made it a point, in promoting his book, to try to discredit the “rightful remedy” of Jefferson and the “duty of the states” approach of Madison.  He did not do it in a civil, educated manner but rather resorted to referring to Nullification as “idiocy” and Nullifers as “kooks.”  I imagine that if Thomas Jefferson were listening to Mark Levin’s assertion of how to address a government that willingly and defiantly passes unconstitutional laws, he would think he was a “kook.”

I would also think that Jefferson would conclude that people who think narrowly, as Levin does in his book and in his commentary to promote his book (including the rejection of nullification) are incapable of saving a republic that is on the brink of imploding.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

The only object upon which the Constitution acts is the federal government. It is its playbook; it defines its jurisdiction. It is also its restraining order. Yet each time the government did not wish to be confined by it, it used one of the three branches (most notably the Supreme Court) to reinterpret it and enlarge government powers, regardless that the ONLY way the government can rightfully be altered is by amendments (Article V). The point is that the government has refused to adhere to the limitations set forth in the Constitution…. the limitations that the States demanded and relied upon when debating and deciding whether to relinquish some of their sovereign power and ratify the compact that formed the government.  So here is Levin’s solution:  Even though the Constitution clearly defines the government’s powers and sets forth limitations, and even though the government has repeatedly and systematically refused to adhere to those limitations, he believes the only way to limit the government going forward is to make the States go through a series of hurdles (Article V’s requirements) in order to try to add a new set of restrictive amendments.  Levin himself has pointed out that such a State Convention may not successfully happen and even if it does, it may take up to 20 years or more add such amendments.  We can predict what will happen.  The government will ignore them or quickly find a way to erode them or get around them.  There is no guarantee that the amendments will restore the proper balance of power in government.  According to Levin, the parties who have been the victims of the government’s usurpations, the States and the People themselves (the rightful depositories or reservations of sovereign power) – have no other recourse or remedy except to take their slim chances with an Article V State Convention, a remedy that has NEVER been used before and hence has no proven record of success.  In other words, the States and the People MUST abide strictly by the provisions of the Constitution when the federal government has never done so.  Levin stands by his proposition even though the people of the states already have the extra-constitutional right to convene a constitutional convention by virtue of the Declaration of Independence. That’s exactly what the Philadelphia Convention was…  an exercise of this right (which is referred to as the Theory of Popular Sovereignty), because the Articles of Confederation created a so-called “perpetual Union.”

Article XIII of the Articles read: “Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State…..  And that the Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States we respectively represent, and that the Union shall be perpetual.”

The Theory of Popular Sovereignty wasn’t just the design of men like Thomas Jefferson (VA), John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Roger Sherman (CT) and Robert R. Livingston (NY), the committee appointed on June 11, 1776 by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence, it was indeed a consensus notion among the whole of our Founding Fathers. Consider for example what Edmund Pendleton, president of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, said to the delegates on June 5, 1788:

We, the people, possessing all power, form a government, such as we think will secure happiness: and suppose, in adopting this plan, we should be mistaken in the end; where is the cause of alarm on that quarter? In the same plan we point out an easy and quiet method of reforming what may be found amiss. No, but, say gentlemen, we have put the introduction of that method in the hands of our servants, who will interrupt it from motives of self-interest. What then?… Who shall dare to resist the people? No, we will assemble in Convention; wholly recall our delegated powers, or reform them so as to prevent such abuse; and punish those servants who have perverted powers, designed for our happiness, to their own emolument.

Although there are some ambiguities in this passage, Pendleton appears to be assuring the delegates that if the Constitution turned out not to secure happiness for Americans, then it could be reformed by the “easy and quiet” methods of Article V.  However, if the Article V process were to be subverted by “our servants,” the state and federal legislators, then We the People (the sovereign people) would assemble in convention, wholly recall and reform the delegated powers of the Constitution, and punish the offending servants.

Former US Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg addressed the topic of a Constitutional Convention with skeptism back in 1986.  He wrote:

As we look forward to celebrating the bicentennial of the Constitution, a few people have asked, “Why not another constitutional convention?”

I would respond by saying that one of the most serious problems Article V poses is a runaway convention.  There is no enforceable mechanism to prevent a convention from reporting out wholesale changes to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Moreover, the absence of any mechanism to ensure representative selection of delegates could put a runaway convention at the hands of single-issue groups whose self-interest may be contrary to our national well-being.
A constitutional convention could lead to sharp confrontations between Congress and the states. For example, Congress may frustrate the states by treating some state convention applications as invalid, or by insisting on particular parliamentary rules for a convention, or by mandating a restricted convention agenda. If a convention did run away, Congress might decline to forward to the states for ratification those proposed amendments not within the convention’s original mandate.

History has established that the Philadelphia Convention was a success, but it cannot be denied that it broke every restraint intended to limit its power and agenda.  Logic therefore compels one conclusion: Any claim that the Congress could, by statute, limit a convention’s agenda is pure speculation, and any attempt at limiting the agenda would almost certainly be unenforceable.  It would create a sense of security where none exists, and it would project a false image of unity.

Opposition to a constitutional convention at this point in our history does not indicate a distrust of the American public, but in fact recognizes the potential for mischief. We have all read about the various plans being considered for Constitutional change. Could this nation tolerate the simultaneous consideration of a parliamentary system, returning to the gold standard, gun control, ERA, school prayer, abortion vs. right to life and anti-public interest laws?

As individuals, we may well disagree on the merits of particular issues that would likely be proposed as amendments to the Constitution; however, it is my firm belief that no single issue or combination of issues is so important as to warrant jeopardizing our constitutional system of governance at this point of our history, particularly since Congress and the Supreme Court are empowered to deal with these matters.

James Madison, the father of our Constitution, recognized the perils inherent in a second constitutional convention when he said an Article V national convention would “give greater agitation to the public mind; an election into it would be courted by the most violent partisans on both sides; it would probably consist of the most heterogeneous characters; would be the very focus of that flame which has already heated too many men of all parties; would no doubt contain individuals of insidious views, who under the mask of seeking alterations popular in some parts but inadmissible in other parts of the Union might have a dangerous opportunity of sapping the very foundations of the fabric. Under all of these circumstances, it seems scarcely to be presumable that the deliberations of the body could be conducted in harmony, or terminate in the general good.  Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first convention which assembled under every propitious (promising) circumstance, I would tremble for the result of a second.”
Let’s turn away from this risky business of a convention, and focus on the enduring inspiration of our Constitution.

The bicentennial should be an occasion of celebrating that magnificent document. It is our basic law; our inspiration and hope, the opinion of our minds and spirit; it is our defense and protection, our teacher and our continuous example in the quest for equality, dignity and opportunity for all people in this nation. It is an instrument of practical and viable government and a declaration of faith — faith in the spirit of liberty and freedom.

Arthur Goldberg

Constitutional attorney, Publius Huldah, also rejects the Article V Convention as the effective means to restore our country to its intended constitutional republic.  She takes the position that as the rightful depositories of government power are the Individuals and resistance to tyranny is not only a natural right but a duty. She therefore supports the rightful remedy of Nullification to enforce obedience to the Constitution.  She writes, in her article Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification, Not Amendments!, that the Oath of Office, addressed in Article VI, last clause, requires both federal  and state officials to support and defend the Constitution.  This requires them to refuse to submit to – ie, to nullify! – acts of the federal government which violate the Constitution.  “This is how they “support” the Constitution!”  As to Mr. Levin’s assertion that an Article V Convention is the proper, safe, and legal mechanism to restore constitutional limitations to a government historically unwilling to abide by them, she argues that while he admitted (on pg. 15 of the book) that the process has the potential to turn into a “runaway” convention, he never successfully explained why Article V can effectively prevent that from happening.

Publius writes: “The claims of the nullification deniers have been proven to be false.  To persist in those claims – or to do as Levin seems to do and ignore the remedy of nullification – is intellectually and morally indefensible.  Instead, they continue to tell us that what we need is a “convention of the States” to propose amendments to the Constitution, and that this is the only way out. They tell us, the only way to deal with a federal government which consistently ignores and tramples over the Constitution is to amend the Constitution!   Do you see how silly that is?”

Publius Huldah

Michael Lotfi, the Associate Director of the Tennessee Tenth Amendment Center, wrote an excellent article comparing the Article V State Convention remedy of Mark Levin to Nullification, the remedy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (collectively, the authors of all our foundational documents, except the Articles of Confederation).  The article is entitled: Nullification vs. Article V Constitutional Convention: Why Levin is Wrong.  (See prior post on this NC TAC site).  He wrote: “Calling for a convention to amend the Constitution with amendments shows absence in sound judgment.”  Further, he wrote: “Levin proposes an Article V constitutional convention of the states as salvation. Not only is an Article V constitutional convention not the right answer, it is the bullet to a loaded revolver pointed at the Constitution.”

Lotfi talks about some of the unconstitutional laws, agencies, and actions that the government has imposed over the years – “the NSA, NDAA, ObamaCare, the Patriot Act, EPA, DOE, every war since the 1940s, federal gun laws, etc.  These laws and agencies all fly in the face of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments.”  He asks how a process that potentially may take as long as 20 years but more likely won’t work at all will address these gross usurpations.  We must not forget that these amendments were adopted as EXPRESS limitations on the federal government.  The Preamble to the Bill of Rights explains it best: “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.”

How is it that the government can find a way to limit the effect of the first ten amendments when those amendments were intended to limit the government and keep those particular objects OFF LIMITS with respect to the federal government?

Mr. Lotfi gives a wonderful explanation of the legitimacy of Nullification.  He writes:

The powers delegated to Congress are few and defined. The Tenth Amendment provides explicit validation for nullification, “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” (emphasis added).

In regards to nullification, does the Constitution delegate this power to the federal government? It obviously does not. Does the Constitution explicitly prohibit nullification? It does not. It can now easily be concluded that nullification is a power reserved for the people of their respective states.

The Ninth Amendment expounds even further the right to nullification. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Jefferson explained that nullification was a natural right belonging to the people and their respective states. Because the Constitution does not expressly prohibit nullification, the federal government cannot deny or disparage this natural right of the people.

Just as so many intellectuals have requested that Mark Levin stop the name-calling and have an intellectual, honest, and dignified debate on the topic of Nullification, Mr. Lotfi has done the same.  He ends his article with this message: “Levin is perhaps the most appreciated and admired political talk show host in America. Rightfully so, he has earned his accolades. However, with such clout comes an incredible responsibility to not only seek truth, but to display the humility and courage to admit when you are wrong.”

Michael Lotfi

Mr. Lotfi hit the nail on the head in his article with respect to Nullification. He addressed what I believe is the most powerful of the opponent’s arguments – Madison’s remarks following the Nullification crisis of 1832. Most are too uneducated or too shallow in their willingness to read more than a page of history and so they just don’t get that Madison was trying to explain that the particular situation wasn’t one that can be rightfully addressed by nullification. Nullification, at its core, requires an act by the federal government that exceeds the powers delegated to it under the Constitution. Congress rightfully has the power to legislate regarding tariffs. The Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 (tariffs of abomination) were within Congress’s rightful exercise of power. And so nullification was not the proper or rightful remedy to challenge it or to assert as the basis for non-compliance. The real argument was the one that Calhoun originally made, which rested on the Compact Nature of the States. He claimed that when the States came together and drafted the Constitution and then ratified it, they were guided by the concept of social compact. They agreed to give up some of their sovereign power (a “burden,” in contract terms) in return for the understanding that the federal government so created (the creature) would be their “common agent” and would serve them equally (the “benefit,” in contract terms). Even James Madison, and many of our other founders, acknowledged the compact nature of the Constitution. At the VA Ratifying Convention, Madison prefaced his speech with these words:  “A Federal Government is formed for the PROTECTION of its individual members.” Calhoun argued that under the compact nature of the Constitution, the common or federal government was supposed to serve all the states equally. The tariff, as you know, benefitted the North exclusively, at great detriment to the South. This unequal treatment of the Southern states is what really led to the secession of the Southern states – not the issue of slavery. Lincoln’s election simply meant “more of the same.”

Again, as Publius pointed out in her article Mark Levin Refuted: “The claims of the nullification deniers have been proven to be false.”  The truth, as she brilliantly explains, is that resistance to tyranny is a natural right (the natural right to protect one’s sovereign rights) and Nullification is the rightful tool of resistance.  Just as resistance is a natural right, nullification is the natural remedy.

Publius is a scholar and is brilliant.  Mark Levin is a scholar and is brilliant, as well.  The most brilliant men of all are Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and if you have any doubt of that, then you are all hypocrites for living under the very free society they secured for you. The difference between scholars like Publius and Mr. Levin is which view point they choose to endorse, given their extensive knowledge and understanding. Publius is a scholar of history and of original intent. She understands that the Constitution is not a stand-alone document but is grounded in the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and in the doctrine of Social Compact.  She is an attorney.  Mark Levin is also an attorney and understands history. Unfortunately, he has chosen to ignore some of the background that rounds out the understanding of our founding documents.  As we are all aware, there are those who support Mark Levin and those who support those who endorse Nullification.  I am troubled that someone as brilliant as Mark Levin can so cavalierly disregard Nullification and resort to the unsophisticated approach of calling those not in his camp a bunch of kooks. This truly troubles me because I believe scholars should be above that and try to promote their points of view through robust discussion and debate. That’s how our Founding Fathers did it. And that was the climate at the Philadelphia Convention which produced the final design of our federal government. The one area that debate and discussion could not produce the just result was with respect to slavery.  Georgia and South Carolina simply refused to go along if the concession wasn’t made.  Personally, I don’t think one remedy is exclusive over the other; I think the sound approach is finding a way to REPEAL any amendment that increases the power of the federal government and destroys its original design (such as the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and parts of the Fourteenth amendments) while using NULLIFICATION to frustrate the enforcement of any unconstitutional federal law, policy, or court decision. I think the sound approach is recognizing the POWER that both approaches offer in limiting the power and reach of the federal government (outside its constitutional limits) and using them BOTH for the effective transfer of power back to the People. That’s what it’s all about, right??

And so, with this article, I want to ask all of you to please put the good of the country first and please find the untainted authorities to educate yourselves on Nullification. Jefferson and Madison are good starts – Read the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 and the Virginia Resolution of 1798, as well as Madison’s Virginia’s Report of 1800, but most importantly, read the circumstances under which Jefferson and Madison sought to re-assert the compact/founding principles of nullification…. the government was starting to trample on our Bill of Rights!!)  Nullification is a good way to hold the federal government at bay while we figure out the best ways to divest the federal government of its liberty-killing powers. There are valid criticisms of an Article V Convention, and I advance that position with the others.  If Mark Levin can PROMISE ABSOLUTELY that a group of state delegates can produce amendments that are clearly limited to transparent goals and which will LIMIT the government (and not in fact enlarge its powers, as some states seem inclined to do), then perhaps we should continue our discussion and debate on the Convention. But I don’t think he can do so.

As Joe Wolveton II, JD writes: “Enforcing the Constitution and demanding that states stand up to their would-be federal overlords accomplishes the same goal as Levin’s proposed con-con without putting the Constitution so close to the shredder that an Article V convention could become.”

Mark Levin may have personal popularity, powerful friends in the media, the ability to shut down much of the criticism of his book, and a powerful bully pulpit in his radio show and his guest appearances on the top news outlet, but he doesn’t have the same understanding of liberty and its preservation as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and our other Founding Fathers had.

Nullification must continue not only to be the remedy of choice, but of right.

“No matter the soothing words and the slate of scholars standing with Levin,” Wolverton emphasizes: “the convention they’re calling for would be beyond the control of the people or their representatives and could result in the proposal by the assembled delegates of potentially fatal and irreversible alterations to our Constitution that could very well end up being ratified.”

 

References:

Mark Levin, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, New York, N.Y.: Threshold Editions, 2013, 272 pages, hardcover.

Arthur Goldberg (former US Supreme Court Justice), “Steer Clear of Constitutional Convention,” Miami Herald, September 14, 1986.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Joe Wolverton II, JD, “Levin, Limbaugh, Hannity Calling for Con-Con, “ The New American, August 22, 2013.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Larry Greenley, “Levin’s Risky Proposal: A Constitutional Convention,” The New American,  October 27, 2013.  http://www.governamerica.com/issues/domestic-issues/21-constitutional-convention?start=10

Michael Lotfi, “Nullification vs. Article V Constitutional Convention: Why Levin is Wrong,” The Washington Times, December 27, 2013.  http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/american-millennial/2013/dec/27/nullification-vs-article-v-constitutional-conventi/

Publius Huldah, “Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification, Not Amendments!”.  https://publiushuldah.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/mark-levin-refuted-keep-the-feds-in-check-with-nullification-not-amendments/

 

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

Nullification - Mark Levin v. Thomas Jefferson

by Diane Rufino, October 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nullification - Michael Maharrey 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859)

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

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

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

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

 

APPENDIX:

Ableman v. Booth (1859)  –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is Nullification Unconstitutional

By Thomas Woods, February 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nullify Now! Coming to Raleigh, NC

Nullification - Tenth Amendment language    by Diane Rufino, May 27, 2013
The NC Tenth Amendment Center is organizing a Nullify Now! Rally in Raleigh this fall. Nullify Now! is a national tour, sponsored by the Tenth Amendment Center and Foundation for a Free Society, to educate and activate Americans on the Jeffersonian principle of Nullification. Nullification, simply put, is the right of the state, under the Tenth Amendment and Supremacy Clause, to reject, nullify, and refuse to enforce unconstitutional federal acts – from all three branches!!  The Raleigh event will be in September or October, depending upon the venue that is chosen. We want to start getting the word out now and ask that people share the information with as many people and groups as possible. There is perhaps nothing more important in the defense of liberty in our current precarious times than the education of ordinary Americans and state officials on the topic of Nullification. And given the hostility of our current leadership in the state legislature to states’ rights movements and the general reluctance in both houses to stand up to unconstitutional federal action, the time is now to begin that education.  Nullify Now.

The event capitalizes on the best-selling book “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century,” by historian Thomas Woods.  Thanks to this important contribution by Mr. Woods, the doctrine of nullification, a founding principle, is being re-introduced to Americans and being revived all over the country. Its power and significance is ever more clear now that our own government has become a source of tyranny and oppression. Thomas Woods is a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute and the author of other best-sellers, such as “Meltdown,” and “Rollback.”

In a nutshell, nullification is a constitutional doctrine that acknowledges the division of power between the federal government and the States – ie, the federal nature of our government. The right of each sovereign – the federal government and each state – to jealously guard its powers, and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, which announces that only those laws made in pursuance to the delegated powers to each branch, are supreme and enforceable. In other words, any law that is not made in pursuance of a power expressly delegated to the government or any law made that abuses any constitutional power is null and void and unenforceable. The term “Nullification” was coined by Thomas Jefferson in 1799 in addressing the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts, but the fact is that the doctrine is as deeply rooted in our founding as is the sovereignty of the individual, the inalienability of fundamental liberties, federalism, supremacy, and checks and balances. When the state delegates met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new constitution, their task was to design a common government that would take care of overlapping functions and allow the states to sufficiently unite. James Madison, the major architect of the Convention and of the “new” government, arrived in Philadelphia with quite a different scheme than what he eventually came to embrace. He arrived as a “nationalist,” believing in a strong national government of centralized powers that compromised the sovereignty of the individual states. In fact, his scheme of government would have given the federal government a “negative” (or a veto) on any state action that the government believed was at odds with its interests. But communications with Thomas Jefferson (letters from France) and a stark rejection by an overwhelming majority of delegates helped him understand the wisdom of a “federal” government of limited powers, with the “negative” (or veto) being given to the States who would be the sovereigns most likely to find their powers intruded upon and jeopardized.  Therefore, the legislative branch was designed as a bicameral branch, with one house representing the interests of the states (Senate), which gave the states an immediate opportunity to “negate” or veto an act of the legislature that it believed exceeded the scope of the Constitution and encroached upon the powers of the States.  To further entrench the notion that States retain the bulk of their sovereign powers and therefore have a right to assert them, the Tenth Amendment was proposed by the states and added to the Constitution (otherwise they wouldn’t ratify it).  A state “negative” is what Jefferson would later refer to as “nullification.”

For almost 200 years, the federal government has looked to its constitutional limitations with disdain.  It dared to take the position that the Constitution is one of hidden and implied powers and that government needs what it needs.  And it found a way around those limitations. First the Supreme Court delegated itself the exclusive power to declare what the Constitution means and what powers the government has. Yes, a branch of the government declared it would figure out what powers it has. And from that moment, the exercise of constitutional interpretation evolved into an opportunity for nine unelected individuals to use the bench to re-interpret our Constitution, to transform the intent of government, and to effect societal change (good and bad). Thomas Jefferson warned about this: “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.”  The questions are these: Will federal politicians act to limit their own power?  Will federal judges limit their power?  The answer to both questions is no.  If  the federal government – all 3 branches – were ever to be the sole and exclusive arbiter of the extent of their own power, that power would always grow. And then we are in a position where the “abuses and usurpations” of government and of human liberties that were levied against King George of England and which justified the fight for our independence are being willingly tolerated here in the United States in the 21st century.  Nothing can be more dangerous since the Constitution is the document that protects our precious rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Education on the doctrine of nullification is an education on how the States and the People can constitutionally exercise rights that the government now believes don’t exist.

Critics contend that states have no power to review the constitutionality of federal laws and federal action.

“That’s what the courts are for,” they say.  Those very courts, after the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Marbury v. Madison (1803) that the federal courts are to interpret the Constitution and judges are limited by its precise wording and intention, have gone way beyond simple constitutional interpretation to make policy from the bench. Those very courts, after the decision in Marbury, have reclassified the Constitution as a “living, breathing document” that is no longer confined to traditional interpretation.  Those same courts have rendered decisions on secession and nullification when those topics aren’t even addressed in the Constitution (federal courts are limited to federal questions – alleged violations of the US Constitution, federal law, or a treaty to which the US is a party).  Those same courts told Dred Scott that black people don’t have any rights under our Declaration or Constitution and approved the indefinite detention of an entire race of citizens in the 1940′s.  No freedom-loving person should be looking at the courts to defend and preserve liberty.

The States, and not the courts, will be the ones to stop unconstitutional federal mandates.  As Thomas Jefferson said, Nullification is the “Rightful Remedy.”

Since September 2010, the Tenth Amendment Center has been hosting a national tour to educate people on this topic and to re-engage them with their Constitution and principles of freedom. The goal is to teach about nullification, its constitutional basis, when it’s been used in history, why the criticisms (ie, “It’s unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has ruled on it” and “The Civil War settled it”) are misinformed, why nullification has become more popular, why Americans need to learn about this doctrine, and its potential. So far, Nullify Now! events have been held in Orlando, Philadelphia, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Austin, Jacksonville, and Manchester, NH.  Raleigh is the next conference. Our neighbors, South Carolina and Virginia, are both planning them in their states. Future events are also being organized in the Bay Area, CA, Seattle, Las Vegas, Miami, Indianapolis, Chicago, and in the states of Idaho, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

The opponents of nullification and the mainstream media want Americans to believe that Nullification is an evil doctrine because it was used to support slavery. They want to shame citizens into believing that to support this concept is to be un-American and to somehow endorse the mindset that gave rise to the Civil War. These false arguments are the very reason that the Tenth Amendment Center felt it was necessary to begin a campaign of proper education.  The truth will allow everyone to come to an educated conclusion about nullification.

The Tenth Amendment knows that the topic of Nullification is one clouded in mystery. People want to know more but don’t know where to learn about it truthfully. They want to believe there is a constitutional way for their states to protect their individual rights. In North Carolina, people have heard disturbing comments from their elected state leaders in the past year, such as the following: “Because NC lost the Civil War, we have no right to second-guess the actions and policies of the federal government.”  “The state constitution forbids us to second-guess the federal government. It’s essentially a surrender document that hasn’t been amended.”  “The 10th Amendment no longer means what it used to. That was decided by the Civil War.”  “The US Constitution doesn’t mean what it used to and we really don’t know what it means now.”  ”Nullification is an outdated, racist doctrine that was used for bad and has no legitimacy.” “The legitimacy of Nullification was decided by the Supreme Court.”  Can these statements possibly be correct?  Education will give people of North Carolina the answer. We hope it will also educate those officials who articulated these offensive positions. Fortunately, the Tenth Amendment Center promotes the topic of Nullification from the mouth and pen of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, our most important of Founding Fathers. Each wrote a critical founding document and therefore are the proper authorities on the subject.

I’m sure liberty-minded folks support the notion that the federal government is one of limited powers and that the Supremacy Clause is a recognition of that limit and not an open invitation to the government to rule supremely on any and all objects it wants to. It can’t be that the federal government has the sole and exclusive authority to declare what the constitution means and how it applies to its branches and powers. The government can’t be sole and exclusive authority on the extent of its own powers. It’s a sure path to tyranny. I agree that the term “Nullification” scares many people and puts them on the offensive because of the crisis of 1832 with John Calhoun and South Carolina and because of the actions of Southern Democratic leaders in the post-Brown v. Board of Education era to repudiate the decision to integrate schools and society. I certainly get it and understand the negative connotations. But the positive exercises (not necessarily summoning the term “nullification”) have far out-weighed them, such as the actions of the Sons of Liberty which so thoroughly frustrated the British agents in the colonies prior to 1776 that such intolerable acts as the Stamp Act and Quartering Acts could never be enforced, the insistence in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and in the individual state ratifying conventions for a state “negative” on the federal government (the Senate branch and the Tenth Amendment are examples), the nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act by the southern states, the nullification by a state court of Wisconsin (Glover case 1854) of the Fugitive Slave Act (in fact, the WI court said, despite what the US Supreme Court would later say in Dred Scott that Africans were not a class of persons covered by the Constitution or Declaration and hence were not entitled to any protections offered by those documents, including not having a right to bring suit, slaves and former slaves absolutely have a right to bring an action in a court of law), the state opposition to the federal Real ID which has effectively prevented its enforcement, the nullification of the NDAA by Virginia, and the rejection of state health insurance exchanges by 26 states as a way to show their opposition to federal intrusion into a state matter – healthcare, These are just a few instances of nullification (the pushing back of the federal government because it attempted to over-reach its constitutional authority.

There are many things going on at the national level which threaten our precious American freedoms. The War on Terrorism has expanded executive powers and extended the Rules of War to our homeland, thereby clashing with our Bill of Rights. There is talk of limiting the scope of the Second Amendment. The federal taxing power has been expanded by the Obamacare decision to give the government the option of coercing and controlling human conduct in the marketplace and in controlling human behavior in general.  Unelected officials are using the full power of the federal government to target, harass, censor, and intimidate American citizens. And privacy rights have never been so fragile. Everyone has an issue that is important to them, whether it be gun ownership rights, losing control over one’s healthcare because of Obamacare, gay marriage, the expansion of Homeland Security to spy on ordinary Americans, the drones-in-the-sky program, etc.  It may not be my issue or your issue, but collectively they all touch on the one thing that unites us in a common title – that of an “American.”  Americans enjoy a country where the government is tasked first and foremost with protecting their freedom.  When I think of how groups try to shut each other down or marginalize their issues, I can’t help but think of the words that Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote in light of the Nazi Holocaust:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

To minimize the freedom and expression of one group is to minimize freedom and express for all.

Take, for example, the Daily Kos. It accuses conservatives of trying to prevent and thwart social progress in the United States.  It writes that “their weapons of choice are nullification and secession.” It writes that conservatives resort to “these pernicious ideas in order to prevail on such issues as the rights of the unborn and gun rights.” To equate conservatives as enemies of the state is to silence the voice of our Founding Fathers on critical issues that touch on successful government and human liberty. To shut down those who speak for the unborn is to deny the unborn a voice.

The Daily Kos is wrong.  The weapon of choice for conservatives is education.

Please plan to attend the Nullify Now! event in Raleigh this fall. Once the date and venue are set, it will be posted on the NC Tenth Amendment Center website and Facebook page. In the meantime, please help spread the word.

      ***  Diane Rufino is the Deputy Director of the NC Tenth Amendment Center