For Love of God and Country
Keep the Feds in check with nullification; not amendments
October 13, 2013Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification; Not Amendments
Mark Levin, who wrote an excellent book "The Liberty Amendments" to urge states to call for an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments to restore the federal government back to some sort of constitutional limits, calls Nullifiers "kooks." His solution is to keep the federal government in check by a series of constitutional amendments.
My question to Mr. Levin is this: Why do we need to AMEND the Constitution? The Constitution has never been legally altered from its original meaning. What we need to do is FINALLY ENFORCE the Constitution that was ratified by the States in 1787-1788. The government represents the CONSENT of the GOVERNED and has never been delegated any authority to autonomously expand or enlarge its powers. The Declaration of Independence, which provides the framework for our common intent and understanding of government, assures that government is a creature of the people to SERVE the people. Only the people have the power to "alter or abolish" government. The scope of government is at the will of the people. Government has no power to alter itself or to abolish any rights of the people. What does this mean? It means that every time the government oversteps its limited authority under the Constitution, it takes sovereign power away from the People and the States. Our Founders warned about this when they included the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and that's why those amendments are included... They remind us that any step beyond the authority in the Constitution is an infringement on the natural rights of the Individual or the sovereign rights of the States.
For the past 200 years, the government has steadily stepped beyond its constitutional authority and stepped on the rights of others. It's time those who have had their rights trampled upon step up and say NO MORE. Nullification is the rightful remedy, based precisely on the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence. As long as it is understood that government derives from the people, is accountable to them, serves them, and is at all times subject to their right to alter or abolish it, then it should not be expected that People have to go through great pains and efforts to ask it to abide by its charter. The Constitution is a limit on the government to hold it accountable to the People and NOT a limit on the People to demand such accountability.
The Rightful Remedy is Nullification and NOT constitutional amendments. Don't get me wrong. When the people want to knowingly and intentionally alter their Constitution and change their form of government, then amendments are the proper remedy. But when government oversteps the bounds of authority that the PEOPLE have set on it in the Constitution and tramples on the rights of other parties, the proper remedy to stop that usurpation and to reign in the power and scope of government is not through amendments but through Nullification. Nullification recognizes the founding American government principle that any power not expressly delegated to the government by the People (for their benefit) cannot be assumed by it. Therefore, when government attempts to overstep its (constitutional) boundaries, those laws are without legal authority, are null and void, and are unenforceable on the People. Requiring the People to go through a series of seemingly insurmountable hoops (ie, constitutional amendments) to try to control their government seems is akin to having them beg the federal government to "Please, please, please try to respect the Constitution."
It seems the great majority of people, including Mr. Levin, have forgotten what a Constitution is, at its core. John Jay, who wrote five of the essays compiled in The Federalist Papers and who went on to be appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court by President George Washington, wrote: "What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people and is the supreme law of the land… It is stable and permanent, not to be worked upon by the temper of the times.. It remains firm and immovable, as a mountain amidst the raging of the waves." Thomas Paine, in his Rights of Man, wrote: "A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either." And in 1782, in his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson explained: "The purpose of a written constitution is to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights."
I believe Mark Levin is dead wrong in attacking the Nullification movement. I respect him immensely, but if he truly believes that we must amend the Constitution in order to restore the Constitution - when the Constitution was never legally amended to get us in the predicament that we are in - then he has a flawed understanding of our founding principles and the American founding philosophy of government.
He presupposes that only the People and the States need to abide by Constitutional limits. It doesn't matter to him that the federal government, the one party that IS supposed to be limited by the Constitution, has repeatedly, defiantly, and grossly misinterpreted and abused its terms. Mr. Levin is so hung up on "what the People and the States can constitutionally do" to bring the government back in line (and by that, I mean that he wants the remedy to be expressly articulated in the Constitution) that he forgets that even as he is out on his book tour to promote "The Liberty Amendments," the federal government continues to willfully ignore its constitutional limitations and obligations. The Rightful Remedy should be the one that most effectively and immediately puts the government back in check and restores the proper balance of power between the government, People, and the States. The amendment process will take many years and will most likely fall through. And even if an Article V Convention of the States is able to move forward, the amendments produced will most likely be more symbolic than effectual. A government that is supposed to serve the People ("that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…") should be accessible by the People and a Constitution that is supposed to protect the People from government should NOT effectively shut the People out from "altering" their government so that it isn't "becoming destructive of its ends." Nullification, on the other hand, checks the government at every instance. It puts sovereign power in the hands of those who were the intended depositories – the People.
Nullification is the magic bullet. As government hemorrhages and our nation dies of toxic ideological poisoning, Nullification is the treatment that patriots can use to get our system healthy again.
Opponents of Nullification want to take this remedy away. They want to take the one true remedy that is based on the principles our nation was founded upon and discredit it by associating it with themes that the average uninformed American has been brainwashed on. First, they try to dismiss it by claiming that the government trumps any action of the State on account of the Supremacy Clause. They believe that since the government has the exclusive right and power to define the extent of its powers and to twist and bend the Constitution to serve its purposes, the Supremacy Clause is the enforcement "badge" that allows it to push any and all laws on the States. By extension, they believe that the Supremacy Clause should be a restraining order on the States so that they don't get the urge to second-guess the actions and intentions of the federal government.
Second, they discredit Nullification by claiming that the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. They say that the theory of nullification has been rejected repeatedly by the courts (in particular by the Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, 1859 and in Cooper v. Aaron, 1958), and it has never been legally upheld. Furthermore, they claim that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the exclusive and final power to interpret the Constitution (Marbury v. Madison, 1803). Therefore, the exclusive power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the States. Consequently, the States have no power to challenge any decision the federal government makes with respect to the laws it passes or the decisions it hands down, and they have no power to nullify federal laws. Opponents of nullification claim this is the constitutional.
They neglect, of course, to mention that it was the federal government itself that delegated that exclusive power to itself.
Contrary to what the opponents claim, the Supremacy Clause does NOT foreclose Nullification, as most opponents of Nullification claim. The two principles actually work hand-in-hand. The Supremacy Clause states that "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby." The Supremacy Clause acknowledges that the Constitution provides legal authority to make certain laws and only laws enacted pursuant to that authority shall be considered supreme law. What it doesn't say is what happens when the government makes laws NOT in pursuance of legitimate constitutional authority. And that's where Nullification steps in. Nullification reaffirms the point of the Supremacy Clause. It acknowledges that government has certain powers to legislate but that the power is not plenary. When the government acts pursuant to its constitutional power, its laws are supreme. But when it acts in abuse or violation of those powers, or assumes power not granted, Nullification provides the remedy. It provides that the States can challenge the government when it passes an unconstitutional law by refusing to enforce it upon the People. A free people should never have to suffer the enforcement of unconstitutional laws on them.
Unfortunately, the government doesn't want to recognize the inherent limitation in the Supremacy Clause – that only those laws made "in pursuance" to the Constitution are supreme. It wants to continue along the self-serving path that allows it to make laws for whatever purpose it wants and to interpret the Constitution to suit it best and to claim it all under the Supremacy Clause. People want Liberty. Governments want concentrated power. These are competing goals. Our Founders understood that. And for that very reason, the States were designated as a co-equal Sovereign. The States would forever be an antagonistic force (much like the prosecutor and defense attorney are in a criminal case) that keeps the federal government confined to its exclusive and particular sphere of authority and out of their sphere of government. "Reserved" powers meant exactly that. Those powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are reserved by the People and the States.
In Ableman v. Booth, the Supreme Court held that the state of Wisconsin didn't have the right to nullify the Fugitive Slave law because of the right of the Court to exclusively determine what the Constitution says and means (Marbury v. Madison, 1803).
It should not be forgotten, however, that Ableman decision was written by Justice Roger Taney who also authored the absolute most heinous Supreme Court decision in US history – the Dred Scott decision. That alone should demonstrate how fallible the federal courts are and how tainted, skewed, politically-motivated, academically-limited, and intellectually-dishonest Supreme Court justices are.
In Cooper v. Aaron, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion. That opinion held: "The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ingeniously or ingenuously."
Chief Justice Warren continued: "It is necessary only to recall some basic constitutional propositions which are settled doctrine. Article VI of the Constitution makes the Constitution the 'supreme Law of the Land.' In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court, referring to the Constitution as "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation,' declared in the notable case of Marbury v. Madison, that 'It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.' This decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and that principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the Country as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system. It follows that the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land, and Article VI of the Constitution makes it of binding effect on the States 'any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.' Every state legislator and executive and judicial officer is solemnly committed by oath taken pursuant to Article VI, clause 3 "to support this Constitution….. If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery."
Justice Frankfurter, concurring in the opinion, wrote separately: "The States must yield to an authority that is
paramount to the State."
Of course, Chief Justice Earl Warren also wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, the case upon which the Cooper case was based. Is it any wonder that he would try to deny states the opportunity to challenge the merits of that decision?
The Supreme Court likes to cite its early decision in Marbury v Madison (1803). Opponents of Nullification like to cite Marbury v. Madison. They say that this case definitively establishes the principle that the Supreme Court has the exclusive power to interpret and define the Constitution. And it's no wonder why this case is a favorite of the Court, of government in general, and of those who favor our current bloated, energetic centralized government. Since this decision was an enlargement of government powers by giving the federal judiciary plenary power to interpret the Constitution and proclaim what the law of the land is (without being subject to any check or balance under the Constitution), it put the government in a further position to hold a monopoly on the meaning and scope of its powers. Nullification doesn't ask us what the Supreme Court says on a particular matter. Nullification applies regardless of what the Court has said because it, like every other branch, is capable of acting outside of Constitutional authority. Nullification is an implied principle. It is the implied (enforcement) power behind the Tenth Amendment just as the federal government has the implied power to enforce its laws and policies under the Supremacy Clause. If the States are truly to be co-sovereigns as our system was intended and designed, under the Constitution and especially with the Bill of Rights (Ninth and Tenth Amendments), then the States must have an equal opportunity to assert their rights under the Tenth Amendment, as well as the Peoples' rights under the Ninth Amendment. To say that the government alone can assert its sovereignty (under the Supremacy Clause) would be to absolutely deny the concept of Dual Sovereignty and to severely jeopardize the precious balance of sovereign (government) power that uniquely defines our American system of government and which most strongly protects our individual liberty.
As we all know, We the People are vested, under Natural Law and God's Law, with fundamental rights. The Declaration of Independence acknowledges this and further states that People, in order to organize into productive societies and in order not to sacrifice any of their rights, establish governments (by the "consent of the governed," by a temporary delegation of their right to exercise and defend their rights, and for the primary purpose of protecting and securing individual rights). The People, because they are sovereign and have the Natural right to determine their form of government and also because they have the right to take their sovereign power back from government, have the right to "alter or abolish" their government when it becomes destructive of its ends. As we know, the Declaration provides the foundation for the Constitution. It establishes the philosophy or ideology of Individual Rights, Sovereignty, and Government. The Constitution then created or established a limited government based on that philosophy/ideology and on those principles. The States, fearing that the Constitution drafted and adopted at the Convention in 1787 might try to step on the rights and powers of the People and the States, insisted that the Constitution be amended with certain "declaratory and limiting phrases" - which would be our Bill of Rights. Two of those amendments were the Ninth and Tenth Amendments which guarantee that those powers not expressly delegated from the People/States to the federal government are reserved to the People and States, respectively. This is precisely the type of government referred to and envisioned in our Declaration... one that only gives to a government those powers that the People are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily willing to give it. But if the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are to MEAN anything, then there has to be an implied enforcement power. That power to keep the federal government limited is what federalism is all about. It is all about acknowledging the power of the States to forcibly assert its dominance on those reserve powers. Nullification is an implied power. Just like the Supremacy Clause has an associated enforcement power which the government is so fond of asserting, the States have Nullification.
It should be noted that Marbury v. Madison was a powerful decision in a few very important aspects. In particular, the decision emphasized and reinforced two key constitutional themes:
(1) Justices on the Supreme Court are bound to interpret the Constitution strictly and according to the intention of the Founders and those who ratified it (at the time it was ratified). Justices are bound by ORIGINAL INTENT and STRICT RULES of CONSTRUCTION (words don't magically change definition as the times change and the Constitution doesn't evolve with evolving times. Only through the Amendment process (which is how the People declare their intent to alter their form of government and its terms) can the Constitution be altered or amended to reflect changing times. "That the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent. This original and supreme will organizes the government and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments. The Government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it, or that the Legislature may alter the Constitution by an ordinary act. Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it."
(2) Justices must adhere strictly to their oath, which is to the Constitution (as ratified) and not to any administration or political party. Anytime a justice veers from his oath and doesn't interpret the Constitution according to strict construction and original intent he commits TREASON. "The framers of the Constitution contemplated that the Constitution would serve as a rule for the courts, as well as of the Legislature. Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies in an especial manner to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support! Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe or to take this oath becomes equally a crime."
On the other hand, Jefferson disagreed with Marshall's reasoning with respect to judicial review, the doctrine the case is known for establishing. In Marbury, Chief Justice Marshall declared that it is emphatically the duty of the federal judiciary to say what the law is. "Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each. If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply."
Marshall continued: "An act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void. This theory is essentially attached to a written Constitution." In other words, when the Constitution - the nation's highest law - conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. Jefferson criticized the decision by arguing that "the Constitution has erected no such tribunal" with such power. He argued that "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions would be a very dangerous doctrine that which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."
It's worth noting that the Constitution lacks a clear statement authorizing the federal courts to nullify the acts of co-equal branches, yet the Supreme Court went ahead and assumed that power for itself (under the guise of "judicial review"). There is also no statement in the Constitution that prohibits States from nullifying acts of the federal government (yet it is strongly implied in the Tenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause), but the Supreme Court went ahead and denied that power to the States.
As one lawyer and opponent of Nullification writes: "Anyone who believes that Nullification is legitimate either 1) Hasn't read relevant Supreme Court opinions, or 2) believes that centuries of Constitutional precedent should simply be thrown aside." Obviously this lawyer hasn't read Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration and consultant to James Madison, the author of our Constitution, or James Madison himself. Both warned about putting too much power in the federal judiciary.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to William C Jarvis in 1820: "To consider the Judges of the Superior Court as the ultimate arbiters of constitutional questions would be a dangerous doctrine which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have with others, the same passion for party, for power, and for the privileges of their corps – and their power is the most dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the Elective control. The Constitution has elected no single tribunal. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves."
Jefferson wrote to Charles Hammond in 1821: "The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary: an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."
And Abraham Lincoln, in criticizing the Dred Scott decision, said: "If the policy of government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having, to that extent, practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal."
I have read what our Founders wrote about Nullification. I believe it to be as legitimate a doctrine as any other check and balance doctrine on which our government was based. I believe it to be as foundational a principle as limited government and "government of the People." I will never place the opinions of any federal court judge over the very words of those who defined our American notion of ordered liberty and our system of government. I know what the intentions were of our Founders – to honor the spirit of our American Revolution and to secure individual liberty. I always question the intentions and judgment of federal court judges.
Justice Felix Frankurter, who served on the Supreme Court from 1939-1962, once said this about the high Court's decisions: "The ultimate touchstone of constitutionality is the Constitution itself and not what we have said about it." And we should take his advice and disregard the Court's opinion in Cooper – and in Ableman too!
Attorney General Edwin Meese, III (Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan), a constitutional scholar, was highly critical of the Cooper v. Aaron decision, and in fact delivered these words to Tulane University Law in 1986:
"A decision by the Supreme Court does not establish a 'supreme Law of the Land' that is binding on all persons and parts of government, henceforth and forevermore. Obviously it does have binding quality: It binds the parties in a case and also the executive branch for whatever enforcement is necessary. But there is a necessary distinction between the Constitution and constitutional law. The two are not synonymous. The Constitution is a document of our most fundamental law. It begins 'We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...' and ends up, some 6,000 words later, with the 26th Amendment. It creates the institutions of our government, it enumerates the powers those institutions may wield, and it cordons off certain areas into which government may not enter. It prohibits the national authority, for example, from passing ex post facto laws while it prohibits the states from violating the obligations of contracts. The Constitution is, in brief, the instrument by which the consent of the governed - the fundamental requirement of any legitimate government - is transformed into a government complete with 'the powers to act and a structure designed to make it act wisely or responsibly.' Among its various 'internal contrivances' (as James Madison called them) we find federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism, representation, an extended commercial republic, an energetic executive, and an independent judiciary. Together, these devices form the machinery
of our popular form of government and secure the rights of the people. The Constitution, then, is the Constitution, and as such it is, in its own words, 'the supreme Law of the Land.'
Constitutional law, on the other hand, is that body of law which has resulted from the Supreme Court's adjudications involving disputes over constitutional provisions or doctrines. To put it a bit more simply, constitutional law is what the Supreme Court says about the Constitution in its decisions resolving the cases and controversies that come before it.
The Supreme Court is not the only interpreter of the Constitution. Each of the three coordinate branches of government created and empowered by the Constitution - the executive and legislative no less than the judicial - has a duty to interpret the Constitution in the performance of its official functions. In fact, every official takes an oath precisely to that effect. For the same reason that the Constitution cannot be reduced to constitutional law, the Constitution cannot simply be reduced to what Congress or the President say it is either. Quite the contrary. The Constitution, the original document of 1787 plus its amendments, is and must be understood to be the standard against which all laws, policies and interpretations must be measured.
But in their task of interpreting the Constitution, the courts have on occasion been tempted to think that the law of their decisions is on a par with the Constitution. That is, they have reduced the Constitution to constitutional law.
Some thirty years ago, in the midst of great racial turmoil, our highest Court succumbed to this very temptation. By a flawed reading of our Constitution and Marbury v. Madison, and an even more faulty syllogism of legal reasoning, the Court in a 1958 case called Cooper v. Aaron appeared to arrive at conclusions about its own power that would have shocked men like John Marshall and Joseph Story. In this case the Court proclaimed that the constitutional decision it had reached that day was nothing less than 'the supreme law of the land.' Obviously the decision was binding on the parties in the case; but the implication that everyone would have to accept its judgments uncritically, that it was a decision from which there could be no appeal, was astonishing; the language recalled what Stephen Douglas said about Dred Scott. In one fell swoop, the Court seemed to reduce the Constitution to the status of ordinary constitutional law, and to equate the judge with the lawgiver. Such logic assumes, as Charles Evans Hughes once quipped, that the Constitution is 'what the judges say it is.' The logic of Cooper v. Aaron was, and is, at war with the Constitution, at war with the basic principles of democratic government, and at war with the very meaning of the rule of law.
Just as Dred Scott had its partisans a century ago, so does Cooper v. Aaron today. For example, a U.S. Senator criticized a recent nominee of the President's to the bench for his sponsorship while a state legislator of a bill that responded to a Supreme Court decision with which he disagreed. The decision was Stone v. Graham, a 1980 case in which the Court held unconstitutional a Kentucky statute that required the posting of the Ten Commandments in the schools of that state. The bill co-sponsored by the judicial nominee - which, by the way, passed his state's Senate by a vote of 39 to 9 - would have permitted the posting of the Ten Commandments in the schools of his state. In this, the nominee was acting on the principle Lincoln well understood - that legislators have an independent duty to consider the constitutionality of proposed legislation. Nonetheless, the nominee was faulted for not appreciating that under Cooper v. Aaron, Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land - just like the Constitution. He was faulted, in other words, for failing to agree with an idea that would put the Court's constitutional interpretations in the unique position of meaning the same as the Constitution
My message today is that such interpretations are not and must not be placed in such a position. To understand the distinction between the Constitution and constitutional law is to grasp, as John Marshall observed in Marbury, 'that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature.' This was the reason, in Marshall's view, that a 'written Constitution is one of the greatest improvements on political institutions.'
Likewise, James Madison, expressing his mature view of the subject, wrote that as the three branches of government are coordinate and equally bound to support the Constitution, 'each must in the exercise of its functions be guided by the text of the Constitution according to its own interpretation of it.' And, as his lifelong friend and collaborator, Jefferson, once said, the written Constitution is 'our peculiar security.'
Once again, we must understand that the Constitution is, and must be understood to be, superior to ordinary constitutional law. This distinction must be respected. To do otherwise, as Lincoln once said, 'is to submit to government by judiciary.'"
It is amazing to me how far we as a nation, as a collective people, have strayed from the principles of individual liberty. Too many people believe they must check with the federal government to see what their rights are and what their Constitution means. Sadly, Mark Levin is one of those Americans.
Here is my biggest problem with Mr. Levin's promotion of his "Liberty Amendments" – aside from his outright rejection of Nullification: The government has consistently and unabashedly overstepped its authority in the Constitution when it has suited its purposes. In fact, there has rarely been a time when it confined itself to the articles which were delegated to it by the People and the States. Yet Mr. Levin is adamant that the People, in order to try and regain the rights they are entitled to and the proper (and limited) scope of government in their lives, MUST abide strictly by what the Constitution allows them to do. Again, never mind that the People nor the States ever assented to the changes that the federal government assumed for itself under the Constitution that SHOULD HAVE BEEN made legally through the Article V amendment process….. Mr. Levin still is steadfast that the People need to go through the arduous amendment process in order to get the government to do what it is/ was constitutionally REQUIRED to do.
Being the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Tenth Amendment Center, I naturally am disappointed that Levin has publicly rejected Nullification. Mr. Levin says that Nullification is not a viable option in limiting the size and scope of the federal government. When considering how to restore the government to its constitutional limits, he takes the position that Nullification should never be a remedy that is on the table. In other words, he believes that the People should be carefully, strictly, and narrowly limited in their ability to define and constrain their government. He believes that the only options available should be those both expressly provided in the Constitution and NOT foreclosed by any decision, determination, or proclamation by the government itself.
Michael Maharrey, with the Tenth Amendment Center, defines Nullification as, "those of us with the authority to say no to the federal government executing that authority." As every supporter of Nullification knows, the individual states pre-existed the federal government. While there were some founders (Nationalists) who wanted a national government with a general veto power over any and all legislative acts of the states which it disagreed with, this position was flatly rejected by the majority of delegates (Federalists) to the Constitutional Convention who thought it was the States that needed to be the parties with the veto power over the federal government. These Founders included James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (who may not have been at the Convention but was in constant contact with Madison regarding the task at hand). As Maharrey explains: "The states created the federal government and enumerated power to it." In his writings and when he presents, he is quick to cite Madison's famous Federalist No. 45 to emphasize the limits of such power enumerated by the states to the federal government, particularly in Article I, Section 8:
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States."
Maharrey explained that outside of those few and defined powers, everything else, all other power, is reserved and resides in the sovereignty of the individual people and in the states, in accordance to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. Nullification, in short, stands for the proposition that the federal government CANNOT be permitted to hold a monopoly over the interpretation of the Constitution and the definition of its powers and scope of government. Government is a "creation" of the People and not its ruler.
If our Founding Fathers and founding revolutionaries had taken Mark Levin's approach towards government, the colonies would never have had any legal ground to sever ties with Great Britain and the Articles of Confederation would still be the legally operable constitution that unites our states (since the people themselves were never apprised of the real purpose of the Convention – to scrap the government created by the Articles of Confederation, to start from scratch, and to draft a new Constitution and create a new government – and hence the delegates were without proper authority to do what they did).
Thomas Jefferson wrote: "That if those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by the federal compact (ie, the US Constitution), but a total disregard to the special delegations of powers therein contained, an annihilation of the state governments, and the creation, upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction, contended by the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism – since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers. That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the RIGHTFUL REMEDY." [Kentucky Resolutions of 1799]
James Madison, in his Notes on Nullification (1834), explained: "…when powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act" is "the natural right, which all admit to be a remedy against insupportable oppression…"
In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, Madison wrote: "That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states (alone) are the parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants (of power) enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are duty-bound, to INTERPOSE for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them…"
At North Carolina's ratifying convention, James Iredell told the delegates that when 'Congress passes a law consistent with the Constitution, it is to be binding on the people. If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution.' In December 1787, Roger Sherman of Connecticut observed that an 'excellency of the constitution' was that 'when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it.'"
I'll take James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and even James Iredell, the men who defined our liberty, as authorities on what is constitutional or not over Mr. Levin.
Constitutional attorney, Publius Huldah, recently wrote: "Resistance to tyranny is a natural right – and it is a duty." I'll support Ms. Huldah's position anyday over those attorneys who oppose Nullification. Ms. Huldah sides with the People and their Natural Rights. Those other attorneys side with a centralized, all-powerful and all-knowing government – the very thing we fought a Revolution to rid ourselves of.
In the United States, natural rights are protected by government and not violated by it. At least that was the American ideal.
Nullification is the Rightful Remedy when you understand the simple truth – that anytime the federal government oversteps its constitutional bounds, it is taking away OUR liberty and our right to govern ourselves. The federal government is not just stepping on the States' rights, but it is a usurpation of INDIVIDUAL liberty. Nullification is our immediate remedy to re-assert and reclaim those rights. Read the Declaration of Independence again. All government power comes from the individual. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…." Constitutions are written to define what powers the people have consented to give government. Constitutions are a permanent and fixed manifestation of the will of the people as to what inherent powers of self-government they agree to delegate to a common government for their behalf. They are to be strictly construed and always read in a light most favorable to the individual since it is the individual from whom the power arises and the individual who has the most to lose. Constitutions are not to be re-interpreted, misconstrued, re-labeled, or diminished in any way, shape, or form. They are not supposed to be "worked upon by the temper of the times." All power not expressly delegated resides in the People. Any attempt by a government to assume more powers than it was delegated naturally is a usurpation of the inherent rights and liberties of the People.
Again, as Thomas Paine wrote in his Rights of Man (1791): "A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation." For anyone who wishes to dismiss Thomas Paine in any discussion of our founding government principles, consider this. It was Thomas Paine that George Washington had his men read as they pressed on in tattered clothes and bloodied bare feet and without pay to fight the Revolutionary War. Washington wanted his men to understand full well what they were fighting for in America's quest for independence and the right to govern as they saw fit in order to secure their God-given rights. No man would rightfully sacrifice his life to substitute one tyrant government for another.
When any government continues to usurp the powers of the People, or believes its powers to be more important than the rights of the People to limit their government, or to continue to redefine its powers, it becomes tyrannical. Our Constitution explicitly empowered every American with the right to limit their government. "
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…" The federal government has no right or power to interfere with the right of the People to do so. Similarly, it has no right to take away the remedy of Nullifcation.
Thomas Woods, author of the best-selling book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century asks: "How can the Supreme Court, part of an agent of the states, have the absolutely final say, even above the sovereign entities that created it?" As Madison explained in his Report of 1800, the courts have their role, but the parties to the Constitution naturally have to have some kind of defense mechanism in the last resort.
The Tenth Amendment was added, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, as an express "further limitation" on the federal government. In other words, the federal government would be limited by the recognition and assertion of States' Rights and States' powers. The preamble to the Bill of Rights states clearly that "a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…" In other words, the parties that created and signed the Constitution (which then created the federal government) insisted that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments be added in order to more emphatically limit the federal government (all branches) through an emphasis on States' rights and People's rights. As such, the Supreme Court has no power to limit the power of the States in its ability to hold the federal government in check. The Bill of Rights is supposed to limit the government; the courts can't limit the Bill of Rights. After all, the Bill of Rights is also a limit on the federal courts !!
In conclusion, one only has to look at the enormity of the constitutional crisis we currently face and then look at the likely chance that Mr. Levin's Article V Convention will offer any real relief. It is very unlikely that our constitutional republic can be properly restored under that scenario – at least not in the near future. The American people are growing too restless and frustrated to wait. In his article about a Nullification event in Wisconsin, Christian Gomez wrote: "As Washington continues to show no signs of retreating from its expansionist federal polices, encroachment in the lives of individuals, interference in healthcare, the free market, and violating the Constitution, the battle is not lost. Nor is it far from over, but it could be: 'All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing,' Edmund Burke once said. In the case of the Restoring the Republic gathering in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, it is clear that more than just a few good men and women have no intention of doing nothing. So long as the people can be educated about Nullification, then hope is not fleeting."
Thomas Woods, "Is Nullification Unconstitutional?," February 5, 2013. Referenced at: http://www.tomwoods.com/blog/is-nullification-unconstitutional/
Christian Gomez, "'Restoring the Republic' Event in Wisconsin Addresses Nullification," The New American, September 25, 2013. Referenced at: http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/16619-restoring-the-republic-event-in-wisconsin-addresses-nullification
Publius Huldah, "Mark Levin Refuted: Keep the Feds in Check with Nullification," Freedom Outpost, September 14, 2013. Referenced at: http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/09/mark-levin-refuted-keep-feds-check-nullification-amendments/
Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)
Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859)
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803),
Edwin Meese III, "The Law of the Constitution." A Speech delivered to Tulane University on October 21, 1986. Referenced at: http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistory/meese/1986/10-21-1986.pdf
Federalist No 45. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed45.asp
James Madison, Report of 1800. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=875&chapter=63986&layout=html&Itemid=27
Ableman v. Booth (1859) -
The Court noted: "It appears that the State court has not only claimed and exercised this jurisdiction, but has also determined that its decision is final and conclusive upon all the courts of the United States, and ordered their clerk to disregard and refuse obedience to the writ of error issued by this court, pursuant to the act of Congress of 1789, to bring here for examination and revision the judgment of the State court."
It went on to explain why the federal government and the Supreme Court must be supreme in their particular spheres of authority:
The Constitution was not formed merely to guard the States against danger from foreign nations, but mainly to secure union and harmony at home, for if this object could be attained, there would be but little danger from abroad, and, to accomplish this purpose, it was felt by the statesmen who framed the Constitution and by the people who adopted it that it was necessary that many of the rights of sovereignty which the States then possessed should be ceded to the General Government, and that, in the sphere of action assigned to it, it should be supreme, and strong enough to execute its own laws by its own tribunals, without interruption from a State or from State authorities. And it was evident that anything short of this would be inadequate to the main objects for which the Government was established, and that local interests, local passions or prejudices, incited and fostered by individuals for sinister purposes, would lead to acts of aggression and injustice by one State upon the rights of another, which would ultimately terminate in violence and force unless there was a common arbiter between them, armed with power enough to protect and guard the rights of all by appropriate laws to be carried into execution peacefully by its judicial tribunals.
The language of the Constitution by which this power is granted is too plain to admit of doubt or to need comment. It declares that:
'This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be passed in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.'
But the supremacy thus conferred on this Government could not peacefully be maintained unless it was clothed with judicial power equally paramount in authority to carry it into execution, for if left to the courts of justice of the several States, conflicting decisions would unavoidably take place, and the local tribunals could hardly be expected to be always free from the local influences of which we have spoken. And the Constitution and laws and treaties of the United States, and the powers granted to the Federal Government, would soon receive different interpretations in different States, and the Government of the United States would soon become one thing in one State and another thing in another. It was essential, therefore, to its very existence as a Government that it should have the power of establishing courts of justice, altogether independent of State power, to carry into effect its own laws, and that a tribunal should be established in which all cases which might arise under the Constitution and laws and treaties of the United States, whether in a State court or a court of the United States, should be finally and conclusively decided. Without such a tribunal, it is obvious that there would be no uniformity of judicial decision, and that the supremacy, (which is but another name for independence) so carefully provided in the clause of the Constitution above referred to could not possibly be maintained peacefully unless it was associated with this paramount judicial authority.
The same purposes are clearly indicated by the different language employed when conferring supremacy upon the laws of the United States, and jurisdiction upon its courts. In the first case, it provides that this Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, and obligatory upon the judges in every State.
The words in italics show the precision and foresight which marks every clause in the instrument. The sovereignty to be created was to be limited in its powers of legislation, and if it passed a law not authorized by its enumerated powers, it was not to be regarded as the supreme law of the land, nor were the State judges bound to carry it into execution. And as the courts of a State, and the courts of the United States, might, and indeed certainly would, often differ as to the extent of the powers conferred by the General Government, it was manifest that serious controversies would arise between the authorities of the United States and of the States, which must be settled by force of arms unless some tribunal was created to decide between them finally and without appeal.
This judicial power was justly regarded as indispensable not merely to maintain the supremacy of the laws of the United States, but also to guard the States from any encroachment upon their reserved rights by the General Government. And as the Constitution is the fundamental and supreme law, if it appears that an act of Congress is not pursuant to and within the limits of the power assigned to the Federal Government, it is the duty of the courts of the United States to declare it unconstitutional and void. The grant of judicial power is not confined to the administration of laws passed in pursuance to the provisions of the Constitution, nor confined to the interpretation of such laws, but, by the very terms of the grant, the Constitution is under their view when any act of Congress is brought before them, and it is their duty to declare the law void, and refuse to execute it, if it is not pursuant to the legislative powers conferred upon Congress. And as the final appellate power in all such questions is given to this court, controversies as to the respective powers of the United States and the States, instead of being determined by military and physical force, are heard, investigated, and finally settled with the calmness and deliberation of judicial inquiry. And no one can fail to see that, if such an arbiter had not been provided in our complicated system of government, internal tranquillity could not have been preserved, and if such controversies were left to arbitrament of physical force, our Government, State and National, would soon cease to be Governments of laws, and revolutions by force of arms would take the place of courts of justice and judicial decisions.
We do not question the authority of State court or judge who is authorized by the laws of the State to issue the writ of habeas corpus to issue it in any case where the party is imprisoned within its territorial limits, provided it does not appear, when the application is made, that the person imprisoned is in custody under the authority of the United States…..
No State judge or court, after they are judicially informed that the party is imprisoned under the authority of the United States, has any right to interfere with him or to require him to be brought before them….. Now, it certainly can be no humiliation to the citizen of a republic to yield a ready obedience to the laws as administered by the constituted authorities. On the contrary, it is among his first and highest duties as a citizen, because free government cannot exist without it. Nor can it be inconsistent with the dignity of a sovereign State to observe faithfully, and in the spirit of sincerity and truth, the compact into which it voluntarily entered when it became a State of this Union. On the contrary, the highest honor of sovereignty is untarnished faith. And certainly no faith could be more deliberately and solemnly pledged than that which every State has plighted to the other States to support the Constitution as it is, in all its provisions, until they shall be altered in the manner which the Constitution itself prescribes. In the emphatic language of the pledge required, it is to support this Constitution. And no power is more clearly conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States than the power of this court to decide, ultimately and finally, all cases arising under such Constitution and laws, and for that purpose to bring here for revision, by writ of error, the judgment of a State court, where such questions have arisen, and the right claimed under them denied by the highest judicial tribunal in the State.
The Fugitive Slave Act is fully authorized by the Constitution of the United States." [pp. 516-525]
Is Nullification Unconstitutional
By Thomas Woods, February 5, 2013
These days we're seeing a lot of newspaper columns condemning the idea of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws. A common claim is that nullification is "unconstitutional." I've addressed this claim in bits and pieces elsewhere, but I figured I'd write up one post I can use to counter this argument once and for all.
The most common claim, which one hears quite a bit from law professors (this is not meant as a compliment), is that the Supremacy Clause precludes nullification. "Federal law trumps state law" is the (rather inane) way we hear the principle expressed these days.
What the Supremacy Clause actually says is: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land."
In other words, the standard law-school response deletes the most significant words of the whole clause. It's safe to assume that Thomas Jefferson was not unaware of, and did not deny, the Supremacy Clause. His point was that only the Constitution and laws which shall be made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land. Citing the Supremacy Clause merely begs the question. A nullifying state maintains that a given law is not "in pursuance thereof" and therefore that the Supremacy Clause does not apply in the first place.
Such critics are expecting us to believe that the states would have ratified a Constitution with a Supremacy Clause that said, in effect, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, plus any old laws we may choose to pass, whether constitutional or not, shall be the supreme law of the land."
Hamilton himself explained at New York's ratifying convention that while on the one hand "acts of the United States … will be absolutely obligatory as to all the proper objects and powers of the general government," at the same time "the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding." In Federalist 33, Hamilton noted that the clause "expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution."
At North Carolina's ratifying convention, James Iredell told the delegates that when "Congress passes a law consistent with the Constitution, it is to be binding on the people. If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution." In December 1787 Roger Sherman observed that an "excellency of the constitution" was that "when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it."
Another argument against the constitutionality of nullification is that the Constitution nowhere mentions it.
This is an odd complaint, coming as it usually does from those who in any other circumstance do not seem especially concerned to find express constitutional sanction for particular government policies.
The mere fact that a state's reserved right to obstruct the enforcement of an unconstitutional law is not expressly stated in the Constitution does not mean the right does not exist. The Constitution is supposed to establish a federal government of enumerated powers, with the remainder reserved to the states or the people. Essentially nothing the states do is authorized in the federal Constitution, since enumerating the states' powers is not the purpose of and is alien to the structure of that document.
James Madison urged that the true meaning of the Constitution was to be found in the state ratifying conventions, for it was there that the people, assembled in convention, were instructed with regard to what the new document meant. Jefferson spoke likewise: should you wish to know the meaning of the Constitution, consult the words of its friends.
Click here to continue to Part II.
Diane Rufino lives in Greenville, NC. She is a wife, mother and political activist. You can read more about Diane at her blog: For Love of God and Country.