500 Words or Less: Nullification

Nullification is a term that was coined by Thomas Jefferson in his famous Kentucky Resolution against the Alien and Sedition Acts. It refers to the idea that a state has the power to say that a “law” is unconstitutional and has no force within their state boundaries. Madison also penned the Virginia Resolution which said much of the same. I strongly urge you to read these documents. They are very short  and very eloquently expresses the convictions of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the architect of the Constitution. Very powerful words.

Nullification has nothing to do with repealing the federal law. This has everything to do with saying that the sovereignty of the state is being exerted because the “law” (in parenthesis because it is not a true law) is an unauthorized act and is supported by no force of law. The states are the sovereign entity in our constitutional republic. They created the Constitution which in turn created the federal government. They are the final arbiters of what is constitutional because they are the creators of that Constitution.

Nullification is a tried and tested remedy to federal government overreach. One myth to clear up while teaching a lesson in the history of nullification is the idea of state’s rights being used to justify secession in starting the Civil War. States rights was involved in inflaming the passions which led to the Civil war but not like you were probably taught. The northern states exerted their state’s rights with a series of “Personal Liberty” laws which said that the Fugitive Slave act was nullified in these states. A trial by jury was guaranteed by these laws in contradiction to federal law among other provisions struck down. The secession movement was sped up by northern states not complying with the unconstitutional federal law.

Another myth to clear up- any law that the federal government passes is truly law. Only those laws passed in pursuance of the Constitution are truly law. If they violate the Constitution they are by definition unconstitutional. The states created the federal government to perform specific enumerated tasks. When the government does something outside of those bounds then it is up to the states to protect their citizens from any effects of these unconstitutional edicts.

Nullification is known to most, though it is not identified as such. What has happened recently in Colorado and Washington state concerning marijuana is nullification. Both those states told the federal government that the unconstitutional federal laws concerning marijuana are not going to be enforced in these states and that cooperation by any state or local official is forbidden.

And that is the beauty of nullification. It has to do with the state doing NOTHING. They do have to pass a law but the law states that NO help will be forthcoming to support this unconstitutional decree from the federal government. Whether it be ALPR’s , Stingrays or other unconstitutional edicts, nullification is the rightful remedy.

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