…in fact, it never really was.
One of the most common objections I hear in any discussion about States’ rights, Nullification and Interposition is, “Well, what about Jim Crow and segregation?” (p.s. Jim Crow laws existed in Union states such as California and North Dakota, so it’s not just the South) For a while, my most common reply was, “OK, so you’re going to shoot down the entire concept of Nullification, which resisted the Alien Sedition Acts, Fugitive Slave Laws, overreaching federal drug laws, a Big Brother national ID card, etc. over one abuse of it?” To be honest, in my personal opinion, there has been a second, that of sanctuary states and cities in violation of federal immigration law, but that is again my personal opinion. It is interesting, however that many big government types in DC in both parties who would bring up Jim Crow actually like those sanctuary states and cities. In addition, there is a recent potential third, as North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue (I could make a series of jokes about her being “chicken,” but I’ll save that for friendly gatherings) proposed suspending Congressional elections in 2012 to “focus on the economy.”
However, one should look at Jim Crow and segregation as a legitimate concern when discussing Nullification. After all, the federal government Constitutionally banned slavery after the Civil War, which was one good thing to come out of an awful war (again, in my opinion, the only good thing, which could have come about in more peaceful ways). The Reconstruction begun under Lincoln and Johnson took a more vengeful turn during the Radical Reconstruction. Congress refused to seat elected representation from the South. When southern states passed black codes attempting to deny blacks voting rights, and in some cases reimpose a de facto slavery, the federal government intervened, eventually dividing up the South into military occupied zones. It was an ugly mess, and from freedom’s point of view, nobody was right.
After the Reconstruction era, the unfortunate scourge of segregation continued in various ways. One could say that federal intervention ended segregation in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act, but one would be wrong. Many states still resisted forced integration, which, while perhaps well intentioned, caused as many problems as it solved. And if one looks at the population demographics in many areas of the country, or at the [fill in the blank] caucuses throughout Congress, it’s pretty easy to see segregation is alive and well.
So how was this misuse of Nullification fought? By Nullification, of course! Have we not heard the stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.? The sit ins at all white diners? The refusal to give up a seat to a white person? Go back further in history to when slavery was legal. Has anyone heard of Harriet Tubman? The Underground Railroad?
This was all personal Nullification of unjust and unconstitutional state actions, which I stand back and applaud! After all, the Tenth Amendment reminds us that those powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the States AND the People! Denying the federal government absolute power does not in any way, shape or form mean granting it to the states.
So do state laws still ever get nullified? Absolutely! This has begun becoming a phenomenon in towns in Maineand Vermont, where they have passed food freedom ordinances declaring federal and state laws against natural foods including, but not limited to, raw milk (ok, I’m thirsty now) null and void. And in New Jersey, sufficient pressure from counties and towns throughout the state helped bring about our withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). And one needn’t drive far in New Jersey to know a lot of our drivers personally love nullifying state and local speed limits. My experience before moving to New Jersey was that many upstate New York drivers share that love.
So while we wait for our Governor to finally implement the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act signed by his predecessor, or our Legislature to stop fast-tracking implementation of REAL ID and ObamaCare, or actually publish the text of A4252 online (I’m amazed it can have 15 co-sponsors without the text being available), let’s also talk to our county and township/borough/city officials about Nullification. Let them know they too have a seat at the Nullifying table, and it’s a whole lot more worthwhile than waiting to act as crony enforcers for that next mandate from DC…or Trenton!