Nullification as legitimate act of civil disobedience

This South Carolina Gamecock does not favor firing on federal forts in Charleston Harbor nor passing secession resolutions of any kind.

In fact, the Palmetto State’s flagship university sports teams’ nickname honors Thomas “Gamecock” Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero that founded the Union and our signature quote at the bottom of this and all our rooster crowings, honors an Old Hickory who saved the Union in New Orleans and with whom we agreed when he threatened to invade his and John C. Calhoun’s home state to stamp down the latter’s early 19th Century call for Nullification over tariff disputes.

But that doesn’t mean that Nullification is at all times an illegitimate tool of We the People to secure our lives, Liberty and happiness pursuits.

We do favor many of the nullification-type laws being passed by many states in response to the jobs and Liberty-killing actions of the federal government, despite the presence of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, and especially those actions that violate that same founding document in other particulars and otherwise oppress We the People in our attempts to make a living.

Nullification is not Secession

We accept the Lincoln precedent on the latter, but we also think that the resolution of the Jackson-Calhoun nullification dispute actually provides a model for the prudent assertion of states rights to try and preserve prosperity in these United States.

The federal government of the United States ensured the legality of slavery at the time of the tariff dispute. The fact that most slavery was in the South affects the weight of the South’s complaint, but not the general issue. The tariff generally protected northern industry from foreign competition, while exposing Southerners to the higher prices engendered by protectionism. President Jackson rightfully, in my view, asserted that the preamble of the Constitution concerning the formation of a “more perfect union” by We the People (not states), trumped assertions of any right to secede. Moreover, I would also agree with Jackson that it and the Supremacy Clause also trump any assertion of a right of states to nullify constitutional laws passed by the federal government and constitutional acts by the executive branch. I am for the manifestly destined Union; am glad Lincoln won the war between the states; and know that 5 Canadas couldn’t have beaten the Kaiser, much less Hitler and Stalin, but I digress.

That said, one can still argue about what is and is not constitutional, especially when the branches of the federal government disagree among themselves; and concerning what action is moral and just when the unalienable rights of man are usurped, even if that usurpation is legal and constitutional. In this regard, I would invoke the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the tactic of civil disobedience by individuals and suggest that Nullification can be a moral and just equivalent by sovereign states.

Nullification worked

Most know that Calhoun’s South Carolina backed down from the Nullification challenge in the face of a threatened invasion of the state by federal troops to be personally led by Commander-in-Chief Jackson. Most have forgotten that the crisis was defused because Jackson compromised with Calhoun on the tariff.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to get ObamaDems to back down on many of their oppressive policies? Of course, and by all means let us continue to fight in the House and Senate, courts of law, and elections, including down to the grassroots work of electing conservative precinct committeemen to run the GOP. But isn’t there enough evidence in to make us sufficiently pessimistic that the golden parachute/revolving door crowd won’t be moved to appease us until two weeks before elections, i.e. that there may be a breakdown in responsiveness of representatives to our concerns? Haven’t we read enough 5-4 Supreme Court decisions written by the erstwhile Commander-in-Chief and determiner of evolving standards of decency as rights named Anthony Kennedy? How many more court orders nullifying oil-drilling moratoriums must Obama defy before we understand that he invokes the Constitution only when it suits his power-crazed purposes.

The federal government violates its main purpose of preserving our unalienable rights. In this circumstance, people have the right to assert their rights. Our Founders did so with arms in 1776 only after many years of trying to regain self government taken from them by a King in order to pay for a war.

We the People should seek to concentrate the minds of those representatives that have refused to heed our instructions via elections via creative ways that might ultimately fail in courts much as Martin Luther King was right to defy unjust laws in a non-violent and civilly disobedient way. We the People acting through our states may also take just steps against unjust laws via nullification as a more comprehensive form of non-violent civil disobedience, such as:

  • ObamaCare individual mandates challenged in court and via state laws that could fall under Supremacy Clause;
  • Arizona sued by Feds to prevent them from protecting their border;
  • S.C. law to ensure secret ballot union elections may violate NLRB Act that provides other options;
  • Texas v EPA to try and prevent implementation of carbon emission regs that may not be authorized by federal statutes;
  • State abortion regulations of clinics and fetal pain will test Planned Parenthood v. Casey;
  • Federal government insisting that states build high-speed rail boondoggle funds;
  • States fighting against federal government control of public lands holding natural resources that could provide jobs and energy supply;
  • States passing laws to end the sexual assaults by federal airport screeners;
  • Montana attempt to avoid interstate commerce clause in sale of guns and ammo;
  • Manhattan Declaration calls for civil disobedience for violations of First Amendment rights for free religious speech and other exercises of religious rights;
  • Pitchfork threats against Bank CEOs lest they agree to salary caps;
  • Texas insisting on Indiana-style Voter-ID law.

King lost many court cases, was beaten often and was ultimately assassinated. But his civil disobedience ultimately moved the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans and their elected officials to end denials of Liberty to Blacks.

Sometimes it is right to defy court orders. It depends on the merits of each particular case. Clearly Obama’s actions on deep water oil drilling moratoriums was not one of them. But had Alabama Judge Roy Moore received the support of his Governor in the state right to decorate state buildings, I would have favored same and doubt President Bush would have sent in troops to remove the Ten Commandments. Likewise, while conservatives may lose many battles, if they win just one against Obama, it could be monumental and the spectacle of Obama fighting on so many fronts against We the People will be devastating to his chances of retaining power.

Many of the above nullification efforts targeting even more comprehensive abridgments of Liberty against all races will fail, but could well aid the hastening of the overall goal of concentrating the minds of elected congressmen to stop taking away our Liberty and prosperity.

Mike DeVine

“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson

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