Just days after Albany, New York passed a resolution as a statement of intent against indefinite detention, the Town of Oxford, Massachusetts followed up with another.
Under Massachusetts home rule law, a local community organized as a town preserves the open town meeting or the representative town meeting as their governing body rather than by the vote of an elected body like a town council. On Wednesday, by popular vote, the People of Oxford approved – nearly unanimously – a strong resolution primarily drafted by People Against the National Defense Authorization Act (P.A.N.D.A).
NO LEGAL EFFECT
Like the one passed in Albany, the resolution in Oxford is not legally-binding – it is a mere statement of opinion and intent. It holds no force of law over the activities of town employees, or anyone else for that matter. But, it is a strong first step towards resisting and eventually nullifying indefinite detention (and other) unconstitutional federal powers within the Town, and the state of Massachusetts. As noted in our report on the Albany resolution, a non-binding resolution – with no force of law – is an important step because it follows James Madison’s blueprint to resist federal acts within the states. There are 4 steps which James Madison advised for us to take to stop federal powers, and such a resolution is an important piece of that puzzle. (learn more below)
Unfortunately, though, PANDA founder Dan Johnson is incorrectly touting the passage of the resolution as something far greater than what it is. He is claiming the effect of the resolution as not just “blocking” the detention provisions of the NDAA, but is also saying that as a result of its passage, indefinite detention “is unlawful to implement by any person…which includes everyone from international police forces (such as INTERPOL) and Federal agents to local and state police.”
While we hold the position that indefinite detention is a violation of the constitution and is no true “law” at all, the claims that Johnson is making regarding the effects of the resolution in Oxford couldn’t be further from the truth. We applaud Johnson’s work in getting this resolution passed, but it’s extremely important to understand its actual effect.
MASSACHUSETTS CONSTITUTION and LAWS
According to the Massachusetts state constitution, there are very strict limitations on what constitutes law in a town, how it needs to be drafted, and what such laws can or cannot accomplish. The resolution drafted by PANDA and passed by the Town of Oxford does not rise to the level of law. Here are the important sections to understand:
- Constitution, Article 89, Section 6: In order to be considered a “law” with binding effect, the town must pass an ORDINANCE, or modify their by-laws. Passing a resolution doesn’t qualify.
Any city or town may, by the adoption, amendment or repeal of local ordinances or by-laws, exercise any power or function which the general court has power to confer upon it, which is not inconsistent with the constitution or laws enacted by the general court in conformity with powers reserved to the general court by section 8 of Article LXXXIX of the Amendments to the Constitution and which is not denied, either expressly or by clear implication, to the city or town by its charter.
- Constitution, Article 89, Section 7: The local government doesn’t have the authority “to define and provide for the punishment of a felony or to impose imprisonment as a punishment for any violation of law”
What first needs to happen to have the effect that Johnson is claiming is the passage of an ordinance by Oxford, or an amendment to an existing ordinance or the Town by-laws. Including language that actions of the federal government – and even Interpol – are illegal within the town would need to be included.
Then, and only then, could a resolution be used to direct policy according to the established law of the Town of Oxford.
This is explained by Chapter 43B, Section 13 of the General Laws of Massachusetts governing the “Exercise of powers and functions by municipalities.”
Whenever appropriations, appointments, orders, regulations or other legislative or executive actions within the scope of any such ordinance or by-law are necessary in the exercise of any power or function authorized by such ordinance or by-law, any such actions which are to be taken by a city council or town meeting may be taken by ordinance, by-law, resolution, order or vote
AN IMPORTANT FIRST STEP
This is not to say that the resolution was pointless, a bad step, or dangerous – none of these are true. In fact, the resolution is an important part of a strategy to resist federal acts on a state and local level. This strategy was recommended by none-other than the “Father of the Constitution” himself, James Madison.
Madison wrote in Federalist #46 that the people in their states have “means powerful and at hand” to oppose federal acts. Those included 4 actions:
1. Repugnance of the people – vocal opposition and protest
2. Frowns of the executive magistracy – the governor speaking out against federal acts
3. A Refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union – the people standing down and not participating with federal acts they oppose
4. Legislative devices – such as resolutions, laws, ordinances, and the like.
Madison believed that it would take multiple full states and the full range of actions to successfully resist federal acts, whether unconstitutional or merely “unpopular.” But, he considered this kind of state and local resistance to be extremely effective. He said it would “present obstructions which the federal government would be hardly willing to encounter.” (read more here)
In order to render federal indefinite detention powers null and void, it’s going to take actions like these in Oxford, and those previously passed on a state-level in Virginia, Alaska, and California (all three states have passed laws fulfilling step 3 of Madison’s 4-step plan).
While, unfortunately, the new Oxford resolution does not “block the detention provisions under the 2012 NDAA” in that town as PANDA has been claiming, it is an important piece of the overall puzzle of resistance to that unconstitutional federal act. Kudos to PANDA for leading the effort to resist locally. May they continue to have success in other locations!
The resolution should be seen as a first step, not the last one.
This advice from Samuel Adams probably sums it up best:
“Instead of sitting down satisfied with the efforts we have already made, which is the wish of our enemies, the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance.”
UPDATE: We heard back from the Oxford Town Clerk, who confirmed that the resolution was a statement of opinion. Ms. Kelley informed us that “The resolution adopted by the Town Meeting will be sent by the Board of Selectmen to each Massachusetts Congressman to notify them of this Town’s opinion on the matter.”