The following is based on a speech at the first annual Tenth Amendment Summit in Atlanta, GA on February 26, 2010.
How can a “crazy” Californian and a “conservative” Georgian be friends? It’s simple – through the principles of ’98. In 1798, the John Adams administration signed into law that Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials. In practice, it was used to quell the freedom of speech in dissent against the sitting administration.
In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Thomas Jefferson responded:
“the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government”
But wait – that’s not all. He went on to say that all undelegated powers exercised by the federal government are “unathoritative, void and of no force.” And, that a “nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.”
There’s been plenty of people talking about nullification lately, but many people don’t know what it really means. I can think of no better way to define it than how my friend Derek Sheriff from the Arizona Tenth Amendment Center has done:
Nullification is not secession or insurrection, but neither is it unconditional or unlimited submission. Nullification is not something that requires any decision, statement or action from any branch of the federal government. Nullification is not the result of obtaining a favorable court ruling. Nullification is not the petitioning of the federal government to start doing or to stop doing anything. Nullification doesn’t depend on any federal law being repealed. Nullification does not require permission from any person or institution outside of one’s own state.
Nullification is something that’s already happening around the country – and Derek explains the process:
Nullification begins with a decision made in your state legislature to resist a federal law deemed to be unconstitutional. It usually involves a bill, which is passed by both houses and is signed by your governor. In some cases, it might be approved by the voters of your state directly, in a referendum. It may change your state’s statutory law or it might even amend your state constitution. It is a refusal on the part of your state government to cooperate with, or enforce any federal law it deems to be unconstitutional.
At its very core, nullification is mass civil-disobedience to the federal government with the support of the state apparatus. It’s about “We the People” exercising our rights whether the politicians or judges in Washington D.C. want to give us “permission” to exercise those rights or not.
During the Great Depression, while millions of people were out of work or starving, the FDR administration required American farmers to restrict production of wheat in order to raise prices.
As a farmer, Roscoe Filburn was told he could plant a little over 10 acres of wheat, which he did grow and sell on the market. He also decided that it was in his best interest – possibly because he had less revenue due to the production limitations – to plant another 10 or so acres. But, the “excess” wheat grown was used at home to feed his livestock, among other things. He never sold it, so he saw this as being outside the scope of Congressional power to regulate “interstate commerce.”
What did the federal government do? The expected – they ordered Roscoe to destroy his crops and pay a fine. Think about that for a moment and you’ll really understand the evil of having too much power in too few hands. At a time when large numbers of people were starving, these thugs in government forced people to reduce production for the sake of raising prices. From this, it seems clear to me that corporate bailouts have been going on a long, long time in America.
Roscoe sued, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In Wickard v Filburn, the Court ruled against him and the result was that the Federal Government assumed a power that was new in the history of this country. It now had the power to control the growing and consuming of something that never left one’s back yard.
John Adams, who as we can see from his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, was no saint, did give us a great warning on the growth of government power. In 1775 he wrote, “liberty once lost, is lost forever.” He went on to explain that when the People allow government to gain power and restrict liberty, it will never voluntarily give that power back. Liberty given up to government power will never be returned to the people without a long and difficult struggle.
If we fast-forward to present times, we can see this principle at work.
In the 1990s, the People of California voted to legalize consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Angel Raich, who has a huge cancerous tumor in her brain was told by her doctor and California law that using marijuana to relieve some of the pain associated with her cancer was acceptable.
The Feds don’t take too kindly to states passing laws in direct contravention to theirs. Marijuana, for example, is illegal on a federal level in all circumstances, and federal agencies have consistently said they don’t recognize state laws. You can probably guess what happened, right?
Federal agents destroyed Angel’s homegrown marijuana plants without much resistance. Like Roscoe before her, Angel sued, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2005, the Supreme Court once again ruled that growing and consuming a plant in one’s own back yard qualified as “interstate commerce.” And, because of that, the federal government was then authorized to control, regulate, or outright ban such activities under the threat of fine or prison.
Clarence Thomas, in his famous dissent, got it right when he wrote, “If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States. This makes a mockery of Madison’s assurance to the people of New York that the “powers delegated” to the Federal Government are “few and defined,” while those of the States are “numerous and indefinite.”
The main problem we face is that much of the support for the 10th Amendment is little more than partisanship. For many years, conservatives have rightly railed against policies such as the ones that FDR used against Roscoe Filburn. But, at the same time, they’ve turned a blind eye to those same policies when used against Angel Raich and her use of marijuana. And on the other hand, liberals have done just the opposite.
The bottom line, though, is this. When you allow politicians to bend the rules of the Constitution – even for things you may support – over a long period of time, sooner or later you’re going to end up with politicians who feel that the rules don’t apply at all. And, if we’re not there right now, we’re pretty darn close.
EVERY ISSUE, EVERY TIME
That’s why we at the Tenth Amendment Center demand adherence to the Constitution – Every Issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses. That means that much of what the federal government does is unconstitutional, including:
The Department of Education, The Patriot Act, Federal Gun Laws and Regulations, National Health Care Mandates, and something that’s been going on since 1941, wars without a Congressional declaration of war from Congress.
From this we can see that the Tenth Amendment is not about political parties. It’s not about political ideologies. It’s not even about political candidates. It’s about liberty. It was designed to promote your liberty by strictly limiting the powers of the federal government.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been interviewed by mainstream media sources literally dozens of times. And whether it’s Fox News, or CNN, or the New York Times, the reporters invariably ask the same question, “What political party do you support?” Each time, I give them the same answer, “The Tenth Amendment Center is a non-partisan think tank that supports the principles of strictly limited constitutional government.”
They always have virtually the same follow up question too – “what about you? As the founder of the Center, what’s your political background, what political party do you support?”
“None,” I tell them. I don’t know if they believe me, but it’s true.
I’m no conservative, and I’m no liberal. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. And I’m not a green or a libertarian, or a socialist or an anarchist. I’m not even an independent.
All I am is me, and all I want is to live free.
This is reprinted from the Tenth Amendment Center.