I’ve never attended Mardi Gras, but I have experience the pirate-themed mega-party that is Gasparilla in Tampa.
I observed a lot of people “breaking the law.”
I witnessed hundreds of revelers drinking alcohol from open containers. I bumped into countess publicly intoxicated partiers. I saw women exposing their breasts in exchange for 10 cent plastic beads. I could go on.
I also saw a lot of cops.
But I didn’t personally witness one arrest.
Mostly, police just looked on as thousands of people flouted the law. Many cops seemed somewhat amused by the antics.
Try engaging in any of the above activities in downtown Tampa on a normal Tuesday night. You will quickly find yourself taking up residence at the Hillsborough County Jail.
Sure, there were some arrests and citations issued (68 arrests and 131 citations in 2013). But the fact remains: hundreds of thousands of people crammed into downtown Tampa, and the vast majority broke one or more laws with immunity. Simply put, the relatively small number of cops could not hope to control the masses and enforce compliance. So, they sat back and generally tried to contain the mayhem.
This illustrates and important reality: when enough people ignore a command, those trying to enforce it find it increasingly difficult to do so. It’s a simple matter of resources, manpower and scale. A few hundred cops will not enforce their will on 200,000 people.
Here we find the key to nullification through state and local non-compliance. It creates the same dynamic for those in power as Mardi Gras or Gasparilla. When enough states refuse to comply or cooperate with the enforcement of federal act, D.C. finds it increasingly difficult to impose its will. As James Madison pointed out in Federalist 46, even a single state can create “very serious impediments.” And when a number of states refuse to cooperate, it can “present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”
We find the best evidence of this in the widespread and ever-growing nullification of federal marijuana laws. With so many states ignoring federal prohibition, the feds have been relegated to standing back and simply trying to control the mayhem. They flex their muscle from time to time with raids, but like the relatively small number of arrests cops make during Gasparilla, federal action does nothing to actually stem the tied. And as more states legalize marijuana, the feds will ultimately find themselves forced to give up completely.
When you boil it all down, the law doesn’t rest on enforcement. It roots itself in consent and acquiescence. When enough people refuse to comply, the law crumbles.
Don’t comply. Nullify.