Fighting Back

Nullify Now

by Thomas Woods, LRC

You will not be surprised to learn that with a few honorable exceptions, high-profile TV and radio have so far shied away from the recent wave of interest in state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws.  (Need I point out that Judge Andrew Napolitano has been his usualfearless self, even as others have run away from the topic?)  But the idea has begun to trickle out anyway.  Jeff Taylor, who describes himself as being more on the left than the right, managed to bring the topic of nullification to a Huffington Post audience.  Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, is speaking at a major nullification rally on October 10.  Martha Dean, the GOP candidate for Attorney General in Connecticut, says (see 4:50) she supports legislative efforts to nullify unconstitutional federal laws.  There are plenty more examples.  State and local political candidates are beginning to discuss the forbidden subject.  Everywhere I go around the country I’m hearing that nullification initiatives are going to be pushed seriously in upcoming state legislative sessions.  The television hosts who have been AWOL so far can go on pretending this isn’t happening for only so long.

That’s why this weekend is so significant.

The Tenth Amendment Center, in tandem with and a bunch of local and national co-sponsors, is launching a tour of major cities beginning tomorrow in Fort Worth, with the aim of forcing state nullification — Thomas Jefferson’s doctrine that states must refuse to allow the enforcement of unconstitutional federal laws — into the political discussion by means of a series of high-profile events.  I’ll be speaking at some of them myself.

There is a potentially huge audience for this idea.

What has impressed me about the smaller markets where I’ve been featured so far in promotion of my new book on nullification is how enthusiastically the idea has been received.  I figured I had an uphill battle ahead of me, promoting an idea which, no matter its distinguished pedigree, lies well outside the so-called mainstream (i.e., neither Wolf Blitzer nor David Gergen supports it).  Why, if it’s not mentioned on or endorsed by either MSNBC or the Weekly Standard, are you sure we’re even allowed to think it?  Yet host after host has discussed the issue sympathetically and matter-of-factly, treating it as an interesting and promising new possibility.

When Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, spoke at a Tea Party rally on April 15 (part 1part 2) he at first left the crowd confused.  What, he wasn’t interested in lawsuits against the federal government, and he wasn’t so sure elections would fix things, either?  Boldin then mentioned the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, to complete silence.  By the end, he has made his case so persuasively that the crowd is cheering like crazy.  This is what I mean: once people who genuinely want to roll back the federal government hear about the idea, they embrace it.  Now it’s just a matter of spreading the word.

When I was on a cable news program in June unrelated to nullification, the cover of my (at that time) not-yet-released book (calledNullification) was flashed on the screen for several seconds.  Just flashing it on the screen, without even discussing its contents, was enough to catapult it to the Amazon Top 100 for two days.  Now if only I’d had just five minutes to discuss it.

Stories like these are why I think we could be on the verge of something important.

We already know why the guardians of allowable opinion oppose nullification, and it isn’t because they’re actually losing sleep over what South Dakota might do.  Even the worst emotional hypochondriac doesn’t seriously believe the biggest dangers of 2010 are coming from Salt Lake City and Boise.  There are quite a few vested interests that would like to see the federal gravy train continue undisturbed, and uppity citizens with Jeffersonian ideas appropriately suppressed.

To be sure, it is doubtful that governments can stay limited over the long run; they have no interest in remaining limited and every incentive to expand.  At the same time, not all regimes are equally oppressive, and some political structures give the tyrants a tougher go of it than others.  Hence our recourse to Jefferson and nullification.

Meanwhile, the conservative establishment offers only pretty speeches and promises.  No, scratch that — we don’t even get the pretty speeches anymore, and whether you believe the promises is a test of your IQ.  The really cheeky, cutting-edge thinkers go so far as to suggest a balanced-budget amendment, the boilerplate conservative promise of the past 30 years.  Even if such a thing were to pass, all such amendments include override clauses that permit three-fifths of Congress to go ahead with an unbalanced budget if sufficiently grave conditions make it seem necessary.  Do you get the funny feeling they’d make liberal use of that provision?

Something significant is beginning this weekend.  Lots of informed people will make a stand in the name of a doctrine that official Left and Right despise, and which until now has been known only in caricature where it has not been suppressed entirely.  The idea is already reaching the general public even in the face of almost complete silence on the part of those who posture as relentless foes of Barack Obama and Washington, D.C.  Also worth noting is that Tea Party groups, which the usual suspects are trying to neuter into insignificance, are defying their overlords and participating as co-sponsors.

We are not supposed to do this.  We are doing it anyway.  Be a part of it.