Thursday, September 2, 2010

State's Rights & Nullification - A Path to Liberty, Peace & Prosperity.

Pictured above: the great James Madison, defender of individual liberty, limited government and the right of self governance.
The mere mention of state's rights and nullification will send most liberals into a fit. While they are correct that there are examples were these doctrines were used for indefensible purposes, like defending segregation, there are numerous examples were nullification was used to protect American citizens against federal tyranny. In fact, Wisconsin and other states utilized nullification in its defense of African-Americans when it refused to cooperate with the federal government's ghastly Fugitive Slave Law. Those who support nullification correctly point out that in this day and age, the greatly threat to liberty, as well as our fiscal and economic welfare do not come from states and local governments, but from the federal government. And having thrown off the shackles of centralized British Rule, the founding fathers were careful to draft a Constitution that guarded the people and the states from the threat of centralized, arbitrary power. Jefferson wrote, “When all (state & local) government...shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, 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.”
Very early on in the republic prominent founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson and Madison openly supported the rights of states to not comply with federal mandates that violated the letter and spirit of the constitution.
One of the most prominent examples of nullification is the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions; in 1789 the said states declared that they refused to adhere to the Alien And Sedition Acts, on the grounds that it violated the constitution. The worst element of this act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials." Thomas Jefferson saw that this granted the federal government a carte blanche to violate the 1st Amendment rights of citizens and arbitrarily arrest critical journalists and politicians. In addition, the authors of the resolution argued that the federal government had violated the 10th Amendment, which states:
"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."
Underlying this amendment is the understanding that historically the greatest threat to individual liberty was the undue centralization and arbitrary exercise of power. Accordingly, the founding fathers crafted the this amendment to carefully limited and clearly enumerate the powers of the federal government. In other words, politicians were explicitly barred from expanding the powers and functions of the federal government beyond those specifically granted in the constitution. In contrast, the people of states and communities were to enjoy greater flexibility in crafting laws and policies. In the last half century politicians of both parties have systematically violated the letter and spirit of this amendment, rapidly expanding the size and scope of the federal government. This has been made possible by the interrelated decline in civic mindedness and the growing sense of entitlement of large segments of the American people. For example, very few Americans have asked where in the constitution is the federal government granted the power to mandate that all Americans purchase health insurance. When a concerned citizen presented this very question to Nancy Pelosi they were met with laughter and derision. Most progressives and some conservatives implicitly believe that laws (that they support) are constitutional if the majority of congress supports it, which is clearly not the case.
Concerned citizens believed that the dangerous centralization of power and the erosion of individual liberty could be addressed if we put the "right man at the helm." Many progressives and even some conservatives were seduced by Obama's campaign promises of halting abuses of civil rights and rule of law, such as warrant-less wire taps and endless detentions without trial. Clearly Obama has been unwilling or unable to roll back these policies. This should have come as no surprise, because history shows that once politicians and governments have come to enjoy expanded powers, few if any will willfully surrender them. So, rather than hope for a wise leader who will behave with restraint, the only means to curb the dangerous growth of the federal government and the erosion of individual liberty is through the reaffirmation of the 10th Amendment and right of nullification. In other words, whenever necessary states must defy the will of federal politicians and even of federal judges and choose to not comply with unconstitutional mandates.
This is the only means in which we the people can check the awful and unconstitutional policies that have emanated from Washington, such as the costly and destructive war on drugs. Clearly the social and economic costs of this multi-billion war have vastly outstripped its benefits, yet very few politicians are willing to openly discuss reasonable alternatives. At first I attributed this to their stupidity, but I am now inclined to believe that this stems from the cupidity of politicians who are unwilling to rescind the tremendous power and resources that the war on drugs have granted them. Not only has the war on drugs placed billions of dollars at the disposal of the federal government, but it has increased their hold on individuals, states, communities and even foreign governments. So, the only solution for states that do not wish to spend untold resources incarcerating American citizens for victimless crimes is to ignore unwise and unconstitutional federal mandates. Those who prefer the more humane and fiscally conservative path of treating drug addiction as an illness rather than a criminal offense must forge and finance their own drug policies. Citizens who are appalled by warrant-less wiretaps, should affirm the right of their states to not aid Washington in these unconstitutional endeavors. And although I question of the wisdom of Arizona's immigration enforcement efforts, in light of the failure of the federal government to secure the border and uphold the rule of law, the people of Arizona have the right to ignore the heavy handed intrusion of the federal government in their internal affairs.
Reaffirming the 10th Amendment is an essential aspect in fighting the growing fiscal cancer that is undermining the economic health of the United States. To start off with, even the most ill governed local states and local governments are limited in their fiscal irresponsibility by two simple facts: they cannot print money and relative to the federal government, their capacity to amass debt is limited. Sooner or later ill governed cities and states will crash into a wall of fiscal reality and be forced to pursue real reform, whereas the federal government has the resources and fiscal tools to delay the financial day of reckoning. And whereas the terrible policies of a local government damages a single community, bad federal policy plague an entire nation.
Rather than create so much ill will and waste so much time and energy battling our fellow Americans to determine the nature of federal policies, we should maximize the rights of states and communities to determine their social, political and economic destinies. Instead of waging political war to impose contentious health care mandates across a very culturally, politically and economically diverse nation, why not let states and communities determine which policies work for them? If the people of California desire a single payer payer plan and the people of Texas desire more market driven reform, why battle? Why, not let each state pursue their desired path? If some states do not want to bear the social and economic costs of the war on drugs and others believe that it is a worthy endeavor, why not let them pursue their desired paths? Why not let each state become a living laboratory of democracy, demonstrating to the rest of the nation which policies work and which do not? Would we not further the cause of pluralism and tolerance if we allowed educational and cultural policies to once again became state and local affairs? The divide between cultural liberals and evangelicals has grown too large, the chance of reaching a workable national consensus on religion, gay marriage and abortion is slim to none. We can either engage in fruitless cultural wars and endless court battles or recognize the rights of states and communities to determine their own destinies.
This leads us the question: is it a wise and sustainable path to allow lone individuals and special interest groups to impose their will on entire states and communities via costly and contentious court battles? As much as I detested Chicago's failed gun control laws, I was troubled to see them overturned by the heavy hand of a federal court via a law suit filed by a disgruntled individual. Would it not have been better for those opposed to gun control to compete in the market place of ideas and the electoral process? And if those efforts did not bear fruit, could he not have moved to any one of 100's of communities in Illinois with more lenient gun laws? Other than clear and compelling cases were a state or local law violates fundamental civil rights, individuals should respect the rights of the majority, the rights of self governance. And the federal government should respect the rights of states and communities to govern their internal affairs. Reaffirming this right will almost certainly reverse the tide of declining participation of American citizens in local civic and political life. Federalism and nullification are not perfect solutions, but they will allow the diverse people, cities and states of the United States to maintain a more free, peaceful and prosperous union. Enough of my bantering - enjoy the thoughtful and compelling writing of Thomas Woods.

The Right To Nullify This Government
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Every couple of years the same drearily predictable charade repeats itself. This time we’re really going to limit government! Or so they tell us. We on the Right then dutifully compose our letters to the editor, attend rallies, and vote for candidates without whom, we are breathlessly assured, we shall all revert instantly to barbarism. And no matter who wins, the federal government grows and grows. The Right gets a bunch of pretty speeches, and the Left gets the victories.
The passive approach of crossing our fingers and hoping Washington will follow the Constitution has not worked. The only surprising thing about it is that anyone could have expected it to work in the first place. It is long past time for those of us who want to confine the federal government to its constitutional limits to try something different.
The time has come to revisit nullification, the quintessentially American mode of resistance against federal lawlessness that Thomas Jefferson urged as an essential ingredient of our political system. In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Jefferson insisted that the states needed a way to defend themselves against unconstitutional exercises of power by the federal government. Jefferson’s fear was that if the federal government had a monopoly on defining the scope of its own powers, it would be constantly discovering new ones. Likewise, James Madison urged in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 that the states were “duty bound to resist” when the federal government violated the Constitution. (The reader will not be surprised to learn that Bill Clinton held no White House soiree in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of these documents in 1998.)
These principles were used for honorable purposes throughout antebellum American history. Virginia and Kentucky used them on behalf of free speech. The New England states employed them against unconstitutional searches and seizures. Numerous northern states used them against fugitive slave laws, provisions of which they considered unconstitutional notwithstanding the Constitution’s fugitive-slave clause. More than six decades after Jefferson penned the immortal words of the Kentucky Resolutions, the legislature of Wisconsin quoted them word for word in defense of its defiance of such laws.

Do American schoolchildren read about any of this? The question answers itself. They are about as likely to read that I, Tom Woods, am the king of England.

But all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, nullification is back. Fiscal conservatives and civil libertarians joined hands in 2005 to oppose the REAL ID Act, which involved the centralization and standardization of identification procedures. They had no idea how successful they would be. Two dozen states pledged to defy the law. Stung by this degree of resistance, the federal government gave up trying to enforce the Act.
Now, states are banding together to devise resistance measures against Obamacare, cap and trade, and a whole raft of constitutionally offensive legislation. Several states have already instituted Firearms Freedom Acts, which pledge the state to prevent the enforcement of federal gun regulations when the guns in question have never entered interstate commerce. (Color me skeptical that the recent Supreme Court decision means Americans’ Second Amendment rights are safe forever.)
So far, most conservative radio and television hosts have shied away from the issue. That’s a shame, to be sure, but it doesn’t change much. The Tea Party folks are going to nullify with or without them. Within six months these same media personalities will be huffing and puffing to catch up with what has been going on right under their noses.
But you, dear reader, ought to get in on the ground floor. The Tenth Amendment Center, for example, is sponsoring a tour of America called Nullify Now! (, which will bring these important ideas to major American cities and force them back into the American political discussion where they belong. My new book, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, gives you all the ammunition you need to understand and defend nullification as an essential defense mechanism for a free people. And my “Interview with a Zombie” YouTube video shows you how the mainstream media will handle the issue, and how we should respond.
The rebirth of nullification is not welcome news to everyone. MSNBC and the New York Times do not want us to say or do these things. They like the situation just the way it is: we make lots of noise, and they rack up the victories. They are happy if we persist in the same failed and flawed strategy that has gotten us exactly nowhere. I for one would prefer not to give them the satisfaction.
It’s fine to hold conferences, write letters to the editor, and sign petitions. But at some point it becomes morally (and practically) necessary to do more than just wring our hands about the behavior of the federal government. At some point we in our states must say: we are not going to do it. Never did I suspect that the American people would grow angry and politically aware enough to put these great principles back on the table. Ideas I once covered as a historian I am now discussing as a commentator on current events. This is the healthiest development in American politics I have seen in my life. Everyone reading these words owes it to the cause of freedom to be a part of it. We have been played for fools long enough.
Editor’s Note:Take the time to explore Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. Mike P.
Mr. Woods' most recent book is Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century (Regnery) and he is the author of 33 Questions about American History You're Not Supposed to Ask, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Regnery) and Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (Regnery)

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