What do we do when the federal government exercises powers it does not rightly possess, or when it violates basic rights protected by the Constitution?
Most Americans turn to Washington D.C., pinning their hopes on the next election, or on a favorable Supreme Court ruling to check federal power and protect the rights of the people. However, when you really think about it, this fails the logic test. We are asking the federal government to interpret and limit its own power. This is kind of like letting a Duke University player referee a game between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. Probably wouldn’t turn out too well for the boys in Carolina Blue!
The founders of the United States fought a bloody war to free themselves from a king who believed he had absolute authority to dictate anything he pleased. It seems unlikely that these same men would create a new system in the image of the old. Some mechanism must exist to stop the federal government from grabbing power it was not intended to have.
There is and the states hold the key.
We all learn about the checks and balances built into our constitutional system. The U.S. system has separated powers with checks and balances between the judicial, executive and legislative branches. Think of these as horizontal checks on power. However, the framers of the Constitution also counted on a vertical check, with the states holding the federal government within its proper sphere. James Madison alludes to this in Federalist 46.
“Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union, the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassment created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, very serious impediments; and were the sentiments of several adjoining States happen to be in Union, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”
Here we see the basic outline of the principle of nullification.
Therefore, what exactly do we mean by nullification? Quite simply, it is any act, or set of acts, that results in a particular law being declared unconstitutional and rendered null, void or even just unenforceable within the borders of a state.
In the simplest terms, nullification is exactly what every toddler masters early in life – just saying, “No!”
When a state nullifies a law, the people, through their duly elected state representatives, say, “We do not accept the validity of this federal act and we refuse to enforce it or comply with it.” Therefore, when a state legalizes medical marijuana within its borders, despite the federal law against medicinal cannabis, it nullifies the federal act. When states refused to comply with the Real ID Act and set up a federal identification system, they nullified that act. It’s still on the books today, but the system it was meant to create does not exist.
The federal government as big as it is MUST rely on state and local governments and non-compliance by the states makes it virtually impossible for the federal government to enforce its “laws” and regulations.
The states hold the key and it is NULLIFICATION!
Don’t Comply, Nullify!