Over the past few months, a name that has become well-known among Americans following politics is Edward Snowden.  Mr. Snowden caused shockwaves throughout the country with his leaking of information in regards to the NSA’s warrantless domestic surveillance program.  Supporters and detractors alike have had strong opinions on the matter, and the issue does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

Snowden’s ability to avoid arrest for these leaks has depended upon him finding sanctuary somewhere.  For the moment, he has been granted asylum in Russia (Author’s personal note: I remember when Russian whistleblowers came to the United States), much to the chagrin of the Obama Administration and former Bush Administration officials.  The thought that few, if any, have voiced is, what if Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers didn’t have to go outside the United States to find asylum?

When slavery was still legal in the United States, several northern states passed Personal Liberty Laws to combat the Fugitive Slave Act (FSA).  More than one version of FSA had been passed, the 1850 one being the most egregious, essentially allowing the kidnapping of a black person on the say so of an alleged owner.  

Whenever the federal government upped the ante with new versions of the FSL, the northern states did the same, even continuing to defy DC after the Dred Scott decision, which claimed that even previously free blacks had no rights, and that the nullification of the FSA was unconstitutional.  Had the Supreme Court’s opinion been sufficient to enforce itself, many Southern states either never would have seceded, or would have written their secession resolutions very differently, being unable to cite northern nullification as a reason.  The Personal Liberty Laws had obviously been enough of a success to provoke a response from the southern states.  To put that in a more current context, consider two things:

  1. In modern day applications, the Tenth Amendment Center has proposed model legislation (the Liberty Preservation Act) to protect against another federal kidnapping program, sections 1021-1022 of the 2012 NDAA.
  2. Anyone following the immigration debate today knows the federal government has been trying to decide what to do about approximately 12 million individuals in the country illegally, undocumented, or whatever term you wish to use (honestly, we Tenthers can’t even agree).  It is a known fact that there are many sanctuary states and cities that make enforcement of federal immigration law very difficult.  Couple that with businesses, community organizations and individuals often looking the other way, and it becomes near impossible.  Agree with the practice or not, it is very effective.

Why bring up these issues, particularly the latter?  The Liberty Preservation Act, originally intended to deal with the abuses in the NDAA, could be expanded to protect people like Edward Snowden, requiring a warrant and a trial.  A fair also opens the door to jury nullification.  Bold state and local governments could proclaim themselves sanctuaries for whistleblowers against federal abuses.  If they can do it for millions, why not for a handful?  Such a step could encourage more to expose the abuses in DC, knowing they have the support of their fellow Americans.  More abuses exposed could lead to more demand for nullification and interposition.

Ideally, the sun would rise tomorrow with lawmakers crafting legislation as proposed, and yet that is not how it would happen.  We live in a real world, where change like that does not happen overnight.  Reality is, there is probably not a governor and likely not a state legislator either that would consider such a thing, or a county or town official brave enough to try it.  It might even be like pulling teeth to get a non binding resolution.  That’s fine.  The American struggle for independence did not begin July 4, 1776; it was the culmination of years of work.  “And by God, I have had this Congress for ten years,” was the cry of John Adams in the beginning of the musical, “1776.”  We’ve had ours for over twenty times that long, with state governments enabling them.  It takes time.

Who knows how long the first thought of independence occurred in the American colonies before Adams, Jefferson and Franklin?  Who knows how long after that thought someone actually had the courage to say it out loud?  Well even if no one said or thought it before, let it be said now, the states ought to step up and protect whistleblowers, because the whistleblowers are risking an awful lot to protect us.  To our state and local officials, and to paraphrase Adams’ opening number, “Vote yes!  Vote yes!  Vote for personal liberty!”

Benjamin W. Mankowski, Sr.