Although nullification is often characterized as a right-wing phenomenon by reporters and pundits in the mainstream media, it actually appeals to people from all political walks of life – depending on the issue.
Proof that it isn’t just a “right wing” thing is a recent case of a Sacramento, Calif. sheriff who decided to ignore federal edicts on immigration and abide by a recently passed state law ordering non-compliance with federal immigration detainers placed upon inmates in county jails.
Whether you agree with California’s decision or not, it is a prime example of state resistance at work. Because California disagrees with the immigration mandates set by the federal government, they have passed contradictory state laws that prevent state officials from doing the bidding of the feds on this particular matter. The state law rests on the anti-commandeering doctrine and falls within well-established federal jurisprudence. These types of measures chip away at the power of the federal government and show that the feds are more vulnerable than they let on.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones decided that the federal government isn’t so supreme after all, and followed state law. This is an instance of nullification that should elicit a hearty cheer from the left. And even though conservatives may not like what is going on here, they should appreciate that our Republic works in this manner because it keeps the central government from growing too powerful. This is an example of an important check and balance against federal tyranny working effectively.
While California’s immigration policy may make the right react with a collective shudder, it should still appreciate that sheriffs are becoming more willing to buck the feds on certain issues. Local resistance may make your political group squeamish from time to time when it is deployed on an issue that you disagree with, but it is certainly fantastic that we have this divided power structure because it prevents the federal government from attaining absolute power. This is how the Republic is supposed to work, according to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
If you want the federal government to be supreme when it comes to enforcing immigration laws, you would logically want them to be supreme if they were to enact carbon taxes, taxpayer-funded abortions or gun bans. If states would have no recourse but to cooperate with federal immigration law, they would have no recourse but to obey those atrocious policies as well. Because individuals, local governments and state legislatures have the right to resist, we are spared from being complete slaves to a monolithic federal power. This may annoy us from time to time, but occasional annoyances are a small price to pay for our sacred freedoms.
This also represents a shift in the way politics is perceived, at least from the left. Liberals have married themselves to the idea of absolute federal supremacy for far too long. There have been too many in their movement thinking that getting their hands on the levers of centralized power will reform society to their liking. Just one more law, one more edict, or one more regulation would set things right. This line of thinking has demonstrably failed. Meanwhile, nullification and states rights advocates have been successful in changing public policy by completely circumventing the corrupt federal government.
Progressives are starting to take notice.
Putting aside our petty, partisan leanings, decentralization and refusing unconstitutional or unjust orders from the federal government are ideas that appeal to everyone. Whether a liberal supports them on immigration, drugs or civil liberties, or a conservative supports them on gun rights, Obamacare and legal tender laws, there is federal policy that people on both sides of the political aisle feel is worth resisting. Awareness is building that non-compliance can change policy in ways that groveling to the established order cannot. Once both left and right can learn to embrace nullification completely, we will be on course toward a freer Republic that isn’t dominated by the heavy hands of federal power.