Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Monday, November 18, 2013

November 16, 2013

The following are random thoughts which popped up as I was reading The New York Times on Friday. This occurred at Starbucks, so a latte was involved, my reward for a workout at the gym. (Otherwise I would never be so self-indulgent; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
The right has no monopoly on seeing everything falling apart and wishing for older and better times. Any day’s newspaper will confirm to the rest of us the sad state of the nation. For example, gun sales soared in Newtown after the Sandy Hook massacre. In Michigan, a white man shot and killed a black woman who came to his door, apparently seeking help after an auto accident.
We incarcerate more people than any other supposedly advanced country, many for life for minor crimes. Alleged Democrats are deserting the foundering ship of health care reform while Republicans attack a conservative program and pretend that the U.S. has a good health care system.
Serious problems are not an American monopoly. Paul Krugman’s column about European economics demonstrates that others are as ideologically self-destructive as we. I used to think that Germany was better at learning from its mistakes; no longer.
Art sales, bringing incredible prices, demonstrate that some people have way too much money and no taste. The Times art reviews also demonstrate the latter, and the ads on pages 2 and 3 demonstrate the former and often both.
One of the sellers in the recent auctions was a hedge fund billionaire whose wholly-owned company has pled guilty to insider trading, illustrating the manipulative nature of the financial sector. Income and wealth are concentrated in the highest percentages of the population, or fractions thereof, at the expense of the rest of the citizens and of the national welfare. Hedge fund managers have bizarre incomes. Actually, the problem isn’t so much their income. If investors are silly enough to allow compensation of that magnitude, often for below-market performance, so be it, but we should not further reward the managers — and rob the public coffers — by taxing their fees at capital gain rates.
There is a source of brief respite from this depressing scene. In May, we saw "Top Hat," in October "Anything Goes": lots of energy, good music, great dancing. It’s impossible not to feel better during and afterward. Note the age of the shows: popular music was better in the Thirties.
Also, we coped better then, with greater challenges, and were more nearly united, despite carping which — so little changes in some ways — included cries of "socialism" and attacks on the President. The latter, though, are more barbaric today. (I seem to have drifted back to the dark side. It doesn’t go away for long).


Monday, November 11, 2013

November 9, 2013
Annex to November 6, 2013
The following is an analysis of the documents most often claimed to support nullification.  
The Federalist
It is argued that Madison, even in the early years, when he was an advocate of strong central government, supported nullification, citing Federalist No. 46.[132]  In the passage relied upon, Madison said this:
Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
An unpopular, even unconstitutional, law might be met with opposition: not a startling notion. The disquietude of the people, even their refusal to cooperate, might result. The governor might frown; the legislature might resort to embarrassing "devices." Does this passage, or does Federalist 46, refer to nullification? Well, no.
  
The Virginia Resolutions of 1798 [133]
This document consisted of eight resolutions, the first of which "Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, . . . and that they will support the government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former." This suggests that Virginia will support the federal government, but only in "measures warranted by" the Constitution. This hints at a theory of state review of the constitutionality of federal laws, but we must see how or whether Virginia used that theory before deciding whether it aids neo-nullifiers.
The second resolution recited that "this assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the union of the states, to maintain which it pledges its powers; and that, for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them, can alone secure its existence and the public happiness." In other words, for the good of the union, it proposed to offer an opinion about acts of Congress. Many of us do that regularly.
The third resolution draws the most attention.
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 are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in 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.
There is states’-rights language here, but its significance depends on the intent of the term "interpose." As we will see, in practice it had a limited meaning, of no aid to neo-nullifiers.
The fourth resolution charged that the federal government had arrogated power "so as to consolidate the states, by degrees, into one sovereignty. . . ." This is a complaint which was as unrealistic in the 1790s as it is now. In any case, it is a political complaint, of no relevance to the nullification issue, except that nullification is offered as a cure for such alleged tendencies. However, nullifiers must justify the theory before deciding how to use it.
The fifth resolution is the heart of the document:
That the General Assembly doth particularly PROTEST against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the "Alien and Sedition Acts," passed at the last session of Congress; the first of which exercises a power no where delegated to the federal government, and which by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government . . .
Contrary to the sweeping interpretation given to the Resolutions by advocates of nullification, and contrary to the implications of its bolder language, Virginia limited itself to protesting the Alien and Sedition Acts. 
The sixth resolution objected to restrictions, under the Acts, on "liberty of conscience and the press" in violation of the First Amendment.
In the seventh resolution, the Assembly, again declaring "the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all; and the most scrupulous fidelity to that Constitution," asked for support:
[T]he General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like dispositions in the other states, in confidence that they will concur with this commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional; and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each, for coöperating with this state, in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties, reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
The last phrase may excite nullifiers, as it echoes the Tenth Amendment but, like the Tenth, it has no specific meaning. Although the seventh resolution declares that the Acts are unconstitutional, it does not mention nullification and there is nothing in the Resolutions which even hints at it. Virginia expressed its opinion that the Acts were unconstitutional and called on other states to agree. The eighth and last resolution asked the Governor to transmit a copies of the resolutions to the other states.
The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798[134]
Jefferson and Kentucky were less cautious, taking a bold constitutional position in the first resolution. It began by reciting its view of the limitations of the federal government:
That the several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by compact, under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each state to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; . . .
Based on that theory, Kentucky asserted, in several ways, a right in the states to determine the limits of federal power; the following is another part of resolution one:
[T]hat whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force; that to this compact each state acceded as a state, and is an integral party; that this [federal] government, created by this compact, was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.
Jefferson’s draft included this phrase: "where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy." The legislature omitted that, perhaps thinking it too bold, but its language, "unauthoritative, void, and of no force," and "each party has an equal right to judge for itself," might seem to imply the same conclusion.
The second resolution denounced all federal criminal laws except those specifically identified in the Constitution. It began with a list: "the Constitution of the United States . . . delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies, and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the law of nations, and no other crimes, whatsoever. . . ." It added that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." It concluded that any "acts which assume to create, define, or punish crimes" other than those listed in the Constitution "are altogether void, and of no force" and, for good measure, "the power to create, define, and punish such other crimes is reserved, and, of right, appertains solely and exclusively to the respective States, each within its own territory." That is strict construction carried to an absurd length, in effect claiming that the Constitution should be interpreted as if it were a criminal statute, denying to the federal government the right to deal with any crime not mentioned there. The resolution’s list isn’t complete, as it ignores federal jurisdiction over the District and other federal properties and the territories, but the more important point is that defining crimes and enforcing criminal laws is both a core attribute of sovereignty and a classic case of the application of the necessary and proper clause.  
The purpose of the second resolution’s overreach was to find a basis for declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional, but it also condemned "An Act to punish frauds committed on the bank of the United States."
The third resolution addressed limitations on free speech in the Sedition Act. It expanded on its argument of unconstitutionality and, in so doing, met itself coming back. First, it declared again "That the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," and concluded that, since "no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the States or the people." Thus far the argument is clear, if not necessarily correct. However, the resolution added that "another and more special provision has been made by one of the amendments to the , which expressly declares, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." If the federal government had no power under the Constitution to abridge freedom of speech or of the press, then an amendment was unnecessary. Therefore the resolution argued either that the First Amendment was superfluous or that such a power could be implied from the original language of the Constitution, exactly what it was attempting to deny.
Resolution four declared that "alien friends are under the [exclusive?] jurisdiction and protection of the laws of the state" because no power over them is mentioned in the Constitution.
The Constitution contains a clause prohibiting the federal government from halting the slave trade before 1808. Resolution five illogically offered up that provision as an argument against the legitimacy of the Alien Act. Resolution six offered a more sensible argument based upon due process. Resolution seven argued against a broad interpretation of the necessary and proper clause.
Kentucky had made sweeping, self-assertive claims; what, then, would it do? It merely asked, in the eighth resolution, that the laws be repealed: "Resolved, That the preceding resolutions be transmitted to the senators and representatives in Congress from this commonwealth, who are enjoined to present the same to their respective houses, and to use their best endeavors to procure, at the next session of Congress, a repeal of the aforesaid unconstitutional and obnoxious acts." 
The ninth and final resolution requested that the Governor send the Resolutions to other states. There followed a long, convoluted statement of reasons for forwarding them which ended with a combination of rhetoric and realism, calling on other states to "concur in declaring these void and of no force, and . . . unite with this commonwealth in requesting their repeal at the next session of Congress."

The Kentucky Resolutions of 1799[135]
Kentucky addressed the issue again the following year; The resolutions were set out in one long paragraph, but there are nine separate propositions. The responses of other states expressed concern over Kentucky’s assertions. Accordingly, it felt the need to reassert its loyalty, so (in resolutions one and two) it did so, hesitantly: "Resolved, That this commonwealth considers the federal Union, upon the terms and for the purposes specified in the late compact, conducive to the liberty and happiness of the several states: That it does now unequivocally declare its attachment to the Union, and to that compact, agreeably to its obvious and real intention, and will be among the last to seek its dissolution."
In the third, it asserted that, if the federal government were "permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, an annihilation of the state governments, and the creation, upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence." This highly unlikely result seemed to be a constant worry.
In the fourth, Kentucky disavowed "the principle and construction, contended for by sundry of the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it. . . ." In the fifth and sixth, it reiterated its theory of state adjudication and added the only express reference in any of the Resolutions to nullification: "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." The last is a paraphrase of the clause drafted by Jefferson for the 1798 Resolutions.
  
In the seventh resolution, Kentucky limited its complaint to the Alien and Sedition Acts but hinted at unilateral action:
[T]his commonwealth does . . . declare, that the said Alien and Sedition Laws are, in their opinion, palpable violations of the said Constitution; and however cheerfully it may be disposed to surrender its opinion to a majority of its sister states, in matters of ordinary or doubtful policy, yet, in momentous regulations like the present, which so vitally wound the best rights of the citizen, it would consider a silent acquiescence as highly criminal.
Having reached the rhetorical brink, Kentucky backed away from it in the eighth resolution:
[A]lthough this commonwealth, as a party to the federal compact, will bow to the laws of the Union, yet it does, at the same time, declare, that it will not now, nor ever hereafter, cease to oppose, in a constitutional manner, every attempt, from what quarter soever offered, to violate that compact. (emphasis added)
The ninth added a rhetorical flourish:
And finally, in order that no pretexts or arguments may be drawn from a supposed acquiescence, on the part of this commonwealth, in the constitutionality of those laws, and be thereby used as precedents for similar future violations of the federal compact; this commonwealth does now enter against them, its solemn PROTEST.
The more ambitious passages may not quite amount to sound and fury signifying nothing, but they certainly provide no constitutional or historical basis for the doctrine of nullification. Virginia and Kentucky expressed their entirely proper opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts and, especially in the case of Kentucky, indulged in some venting, but the solution was, as it always had been, political.
Report of the Virginia legislature of 1800[136]
Nullifiers claim that Madison’s adherence to states rights and nullification is recorded in a further document, a Report of the Virginia legislature. The Report adopted in January, 1800 (drafted by Madison in late 1799), is a long, rambling document which was prompted by pique at the negative responses by other states to the Resolutions of 1798.
About sixty percent of the 1800 Virginia Report addressed itself to the evils of the Alien and Sedition Acts and, apart from the repetition of some rhetoric in earlier passages, that section is neither controversial nor of much relevance to the present topic.
In the earlier sections, the Report made several statements which are generally supportive of a theory of states’ rights. There is a reference to the Tenth Amendment: "the powers not given to the government, were withheld from it . . . ." The theory of state adjudication is repeated:
The Constitution of the United States was formed by the sanction of the states, given by each in its sovereign capacity. . . . The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity, that there can be no tribunal above their authority, to decide in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and, consequently, that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition.
The Report acknowledged that interposition could be considered an encroachment on the role of the Supreme Court: "But it is objected that the judicial authority is to be regarded as the sole expositor of the Constitution, in the last resort; and it may be asked for what reason, the declaration by the General Assembly, supposing it to be theoretically true, could be required at the present day and in so solemn a manner." In justification, the Report stated that interposition would be limited to "those great and extraordinary cases, in which all the forms of the Constitution may prove ineffectual against infractions dangerous to the essential rights of the parties to it." After all, the Court might make the wrong decision, i.e., uphold a federal law considered in Virginia to exceed constitutional powers:
The resolution supposes that dangerous powers, not delegated, may not only be usurped and executed by the other departments, but that the judicial department also may exercise or sanction dangerous powers beyond the grant of the Constitution; and, consequently, that the ultimate right of the parties to the Constitution, to judge whether the compact has been dangerously violated, must extend to violations by one delegated authority, as well as by another; by the judiciary, as well as by the executive, or the legislature.
What does all of this talk of interposition and decision in the last resort really mean? Despite the foregoing, it doesn’t mean substituting the state’s ruling for that of the Court:
[A] declaration that proceedings of the Federal Government are not warranted by the Constitution, is a novelty neither among the citizens, nor among the legislatures of the states; nor are the citizens or the legislature of Virginia, singular in the example of it.
In other words. there is nothing novel about a protest. Does Virginia claim to be doing more than that? No:
Nor can the declarations of either [citizens or legislatures], whether affirming or denying the constitutionality of measures of the Federal Government, or whether made before or after judicial decisions thereon, be deemed, in any point of view, an assumption of the office of the judge. The declarations, in such cases, are expressions of opinion, unaccompanied with any other effect than what they may produce on opinion, by exciting reflection.
The Resolutions, far from being acts of nullification or even a serious assertion of a right to judge the constitutionality of a statute, are merely expressions of opinion which, it is hoped, will change other opinions.
The expositions of the judiciary, on the other hand, are carried into immediate effect by force. The former [expressions of opinion] may lead to a change in the legislative expression of the general will; possibly to a change in the opinion of the judiciary; the latter enforces the general will, whilst that will and that opinion continue unchanged. (emphasis added to both quotes)
Again, we have sweeping rhetoric reduced to innocuous dimensions: interposition means the emphatic expression of opinion, not substitution for the Supreme Court.
The Report renewed the call of the Resolutions: "Resolved, That the General Assembly . . . finds it to be its indispensable duty to adhere to the [Resolutions], . . . and more especially to be its duty to renew, as it does hereby renew, its protest against ‘the alien and sedition-acts,’ as palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution."
 
Like the 1798 Resolution, the 1800 Report was a protest.[137]

Notes on Nullification[138]
In this 1836 document Madison repudiated the doctrine of nullification. Nullifiers argued then as they do now that the Virginia Resolutions supported their position, even though Virginia rejected that interpretation. As Madison put it: "Altho' the Legislature of Virginia declared at a late session almost unanimously, that S. Carolina was not supported in her doctrine of nullification by the Resolutions of 1798, it appears that those resolutions are still appealed to as expressly or constructively favoring the doctrine." (There is an argument [139] that Madison, in that comment, meant only to disapprove the South Carolina version of nullification, not the principle. The argument is confused and self-defeating). 
Madison pointed out that the Virginia Resolutions had as their "main and immediate object . . . to produce a conviction everywhere, that the Constitution had been violated by the obnoxious acts and to procure a concurrence and co-operation of the other States in effectuating a repeal of the acts." He muddied the waters by referring to an inherent right of rebellion: "In this view of the subject there is nothing which excludes a natural right in the States individually, more than in any portion of an individual State, suffering under palpable and insupportable wrongs, from seeking relief by resistance and revolution." However, that is an entirely different matter, an extra-constitutional action: "But it follows, from no view of the subject, that a nullification of a law of the U. S. can as is now contended, belong rightfully to a single State, as one of the parties to the Constitution; the State not ceasing to avow its adherence to the Constitution." A state cannot nullify without repudiating the Constitution. "A plainer contradiction in terms, or a more fatal inlet to anarchy, cannot be imagined." Again, "There cannot be different laws in different states on subjects within the compact without subverting its fundamental principles, and rendering it as abortive in practice as it would be incongruous in theory." This seems obvious enough not to require elucidation but then, as now, strange ideas were abroad.
Other writings
On at least two other occasions, Madison rejected the misuse of the Virginia Resolutions and the notion that states had the power to decide whether to obey federal laws. In a letter in 1830, he stated that the Constitution "cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the States individually" and that a "uniform authority of the laws, is in itself a vital principle." He also noted that the debate on the 1798 Resolution "discloses no reference whatever to a constitutional right in an individual State to arrest by force the operation of a law of the U. S." The solution to bad laws is to oppose and repeal them, which is what happened then: "When the Alien & Sedition laws were passed in contravention to the opinions and feelings of the community, the first elections that ensued put an end to them."[140] 
In a letter of 1833, he observed that
The words of the Constitution are explicit, that the Constitution & laws of the U. S. shall be supreme over the Constitutions & laws of the Several States; supreme in their exposition and execution as well as in their authority. . . . The imagination itself is startled at the idea of twenty four independent expounders of a rule, that can not exist, but in a meaning and operation, the same for all.[141]
The contention of today’s nullifiers is more than twice as startling.
Where does a review of all of these documents leave us? The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 asked its representatives in Congress to work toward repeal of unjust laws. There is one claim of a right of nullification, in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799 which, however, stated that "this commonwealth . . . will bow to the laws of the Union." The Virginia Resolutions mentioned interposition once, and the Virginia Report used "interposition" or "interpose" several times, but those documents merely protested the Alien and Sedition Acts; the Report disavowed a challenge to the Supreme Court. There are other statements generally supportive of the doctrine of states’ rights, or more specifically of a right of opposition, some of which evaporate on inspection, some of which remain, but none of which proposes nullification, and some of which, being revolutionary, stand outside the compact theory. The nullifiers’ collection of proof texts forms the weakest of reeds on which to lean.

_______________________

132. See Mike Maharrey, "The Blueprint: James Madison’s Advice,"
http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/08/07/the-blueprint-james-madisons-advice/#.UhusN4_n_Vw
133. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Virginia_Resolutions_of_1798 
134.
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kentucky_Resolutions_of_1798 
135.
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kentucky_Resolutions_of_1799
136.
http://www.constitution.org/rf/vr_1799.htm
137. The Report used the word "nullification" once, but in a different context, pertaining to an argument by supporters of the Alien and Sedition Acts that they were justified by the common law.
138.
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mjmtext:@field(DOCID+@lit(jm090163))   
139. Mike Maharrey, "Spalding, Heritage: Wrong on Nullification. Again."
140. Letter to Edward Everett, August. 28, 1830 http://www.constitution.org/jm/18300828_everett.htm
141. Letter to William Cabell Rives, March 12, 1833 http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/99-02-02-2703

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 6, 2013
This continues the discussion of nullification begun on October 29.
The first task in evaluating the theory of nullification is to determine exactly what that term means or, perhaps more to the point, which definition we should consider. In its weakest form, "nullification" is used to describe any declaration or act by a state which is inconsistent with federal law. Thus, state medical-marijuana laws are considered by some to be a form of nullification. That certainly is a loose application of the term. Such laws are inconsistent with federal law and are an implied disapproval, but the federal law remains in force and the state law does not affect its enforcement, a result illustrated by Gonzales v. Raich.[115] As noted in the preceding post, the Firearms Freedom Act has been labeled a nullification measure even though it does not declare any law void.
Here is an attempt at a definition by a proponent: "Nullification is the claim that the supposed law is not a law at all because it is unconstitutional."[116]  However, that's only part of the picture; anyone can make such a claim without engaging in "nullification." Another version is that "nullification is a concept of legal statutory construction that endows each state with the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal measure that a state deems unconstitutional."[117]  That specifies that the state can decide constitutionality, but the issue is constitutional theory, not statutory construction. Here’s another try: "When a state 'nullifies' a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or 'non-effective,' within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned."[118]  That seems to be more or less the core definition.
However, there are others. "State nullification is the idea that the states can and must refuse to enforce unconstitutional federal laws."[119]  That adds non-cooperation to the formula. (The "must" is padding). "The concept of a state nullifying a federal law simply means that a state refuses to comply with the law or permit its enforcement within state boundaries."[120] That implies active opposition. However, Patrick Krey, the author of the last definition, despite asserting that nullification may mean refusing to permit the enforcement of a federal law, backed away from confrontation in another essay written on the same day: "The goal of nullification should simply be inaction when the feds want action . . . ." He disapproved of the versions of the Firearms Freedom Act which provide that federal officials could be criminally prosecuted for trying to enforce firearms laws. "The key to successfully using nullification is to expose the federal government as the aggressive, unconstitutional usurper, and states would be wise to not directly confront them."[121]
All of this floundering suggests that the advocates of nullification don’t have a firm grasp on the idea. For this discussion, I'll take "nullification" to mean a declaration by a state that a federal law is void and unenforceable within that state.
As strange the notion of nullification seems, it has infected the deliberations of many legislatures, so it requires rebuttal. It is not difficult to demonstrate that the theory is unsound but, because the arguments in favor depend in part on the misreading or misapplication of a number of documents, systematic refutation requires a tedious review of them. I've undertaken that in an Annex to this post; the following is a more general analysis.
Nullification is based on a belief in state sovereignty. Resort to states' rights or "sovereignty" is a common reaction by the party losing influence in the federal government and, accordingly, it is more a political ploy than a serious constitutional argument.[122]   Nullifiers rely heavily on documents drafted by Jefferson and by Madison in the 1790s; however, they illustrate the point. During the Washington and Adams administrations Madison resorted to a states-rights stance, and Jefferson sometimes went to extremes, because they were losing contests to, or opposed policies attributed to, Hamilton. The documents relied upon date to that period of political powerlessness and resentment.
Before considering the statements by the Founders, let's look at the theoretical basis of nullification. (Here I'm following the argument of a principal supporter of nullification, Thomas Woods).[123]  The claim is that, because the states entered into a "compact" which created the union, they retain the power to review and repudiate the central government’s actions.
In Dr. Woods’ formulation, there are three parts to the compact theory. First, the nature of the states: they "preceded the Union," were sovereign prior adoption of the Articles of Confederation, and remained so under the Articles. That, however leads nowhere. He simply assumes that the states, under the Constitution, remained sovereign in the same sense and to the same degree as they did under the Articles, which ignores the very different arrangement under the Constitution. Note, for example, that the Articles declared that
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled (emphasis added)
whereas the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the bastion of states' rights, provides:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
In addition, Woods' argument about state sovereignty conflicts with his second point, which is that the people of the states are sovereign. If the people are sovereign, it hardly matters whether the states preceded the union or retained some level of sovereignty. He argues that the people "apportion powers between themselves, their state governments, and the federal government." However, he has the tense wrong; as to the basic structure, the apportioning to the federal government was done in the Constitution.
His third point is that the federal government merely is the agent of the people of the states, and therefore the power to resolve disputes over authority must be in the latter, because an agent cannot be the judge of its own powers. However, although the federal government could be regarded as an agent of the people, in that it protects them and governs, more or less, in accordance with their wishes, it is not an agent in the usual sense of someone who acts under orders, certainly not one whose power and authority is subject to modification at the whim of the principal. It is a government and a sovereignty, so the principal-as-judge argument isn't valid. The people — of the nation — can direct in a general way what the government does, but must do so through the process which is set out in the Constitution: elections.
Woods never reconciled the two theories of sovereignty, but his reference to the people may not be intended seriously; the real argument is for states' rights. Later in the same article he alleged that "it would be absurd for the states, the fundamental building blocks of the United States, not to be able to defend themselves against the exercise of usurped power. The logic of sovereignty and the American Union demand it." Or, as he said elsewhere, "The states, as sovereign parties to the constitutional compact, have the authority to interpose and to protect their citizens from unconstitutional acts of the central government." Or again, "The central government cannot have the final say because it is a creature of the constitutional compact between the states. The creature cannot tell the creator what the limits of its powers are."[124] The agency argument still fails if the states are substituted for the people; the federal government is a sovereignty.
However, we needn't argue agency theory; the Constitution resolved the issue of who decides whether a statute is constitutional. The Supremacy Clause, Article VI, provides:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made 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, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.
But, nullifiers still insist, the federal government — which includes the Supreme Court — cannot be the judge of its own laws; it can’t decide which are constitutional. "The Court may, indeed, express an opinion, but it cannot have the final say. That can only be vested in the supreme authority that ratified the Constitution and gave it the force of law, namely the people of the several states."[125]  That claim, of course, ignores reality: the Supreme Court does have the final say, and for good reason: the Constitution decided the issue contrary to the nullifiers’ claim. Article III provides:
Section 1. The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. . . .
Section 2. The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; . . . to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; . . .
A claim that a statute or an executive action is unconstitutional is a case arising under the Constitution, and a case in which the United States is a party. This is not a new interpretation; Madison set it out in Federalist 39:
It is true that in controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions [state and federal], the tribunal which is ultimately to decide, is to be established under the general government. . . . Some such tribunal is clearly essential to prevent an appeal to the sword and a dissolution of the compact; and that it ought to be established under the general rather than under the local governments, or, to speak more properly, that it could be safely established under the first alone, is a position not likely to be combated.
Alas, the position has been "combated," but the fact remains.
The "compact" does not contemplate nullification, and it would be absurd if it did. If such a notion had prevailed, if a federal law could be valid in one state and not another, Madison said in Federalist 44,
the world would have seen, for the first time, a system of government founded on an inversion of the fundamental principles of all government; it would have seen the authority of the whole society every where subordinate to the authority of the parts; it would have seen a monster, in which the head was under the direction of the members.
Arguing that states are sovereign, or are the principals of the agent federal government, or that they retained some power to "nullify" — overrule — federal law, also requires that one ignore numerous provisions of the Constitution which define federal power and limit that of the states. In the original Constitution, the latter are set out in Article I, Section 10; Article IV, Section 1; and Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1.  Adding the provisions of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments demonstrates that state "sovereignty," i.e., the area left to state jurisdiction, has been limited so often and so substantially that talk of an inherent, reserved power of nullification is ludicrous.
The state-compact argument really doesn't make much sense on its face. Why rely on the states' having preceded the Union? That applies only to the first thirteen. All other states are "creatures" of the federal government.[126]  True, there is a doctrine of treating all states equally, but that does not magically make Alaska a pre-existing state. If it has the power of nullification, the source must be in the Constitution or in the nature of the federal system. However, the Constitution and the federal union were designed to overcome the sovereignty problems inherent in the Articles of Confederation. Federalist Nos. 18 through 20 were devoted to demonstrating that confederations, throughout history, had failed, that they represented "the political monster of an imperium in imperio."[127] Federalist 20 summed it up as follows: "The important truth, which it unequivocally pronounces in the present case, is that a sovereignty over sovereigns, a government over governments, a legislation for communities, as contradistinguished from individuals, as it is a solecism in theory, so in practice it is subversive of the order and ends of civil polity . . . ." The purpose of the Constitution was to escape such a situation, but neo-nullifiers think that somehow it was perpetuated or created.
The nullification argument is buttressed by quotations from these documents: The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 (the former drafted by Jefferson, the latter containing a clause proposed by him); the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, a follow-up known as the Virginia Report of 1800, and a passage from Federalist No. 46 (the last three by Madison). Apart from The Federalist, the documents relied upon have no status as interpretations of the Constitution, and were repudiated or ignored by other states at the time. They are relied upon because of their authorship. As noted, I've added an Annex which discusses the references in (tiresome) detail, but here I'll limit the discussion to a general principle: the legitimate use of excerpts requires attention to context. In this case, context comes in three forms.
Situation. The Resolutions and the Report were the product of political opposition, based on a belief that the federal government was heading toward tyranny. Overstatement is not surprising in such circumstances.
The Federalist was written in support of the proposed Constitution, immediately following its drafting, by two advocates of stronger central government. (Madison had proposed that the Constitution allow the federal government to veto state laws). They were not likely to advocate state nullification.

Purpose. The Resolutions and Report were drafted to protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts. Those laws were unwise and unjustified applications of government power, enacted by political enemies, so again rhetorical excess might be expected, reenforcing any tendency under the first point.
The purpose of The Federalist was to persuade the New York ratifying convention, which was expected to be hostile, to accept the Constitution. Accordingly, as a sales tool, it sometimes slanted its argument toward preservation of states' rights. Although such comments should not be taken at face value, they have been treated as statements of constitutional principle. "Many have dwelt on Madison's sweet talk and disregarded his basic argument for more power to the central government." Again, "It is this kind of sweet talk to the states that has led modern readers of the Federalist to think that the book argues for decentralization rather than centralization. But decentralization existed at the time; that is what Publius was fighting."[128]
Documentary integrity. Any quotation must be measured against the totality of the document or source. In the Resolutions and Report, one must consider whether the inflammatory passages are contradicted or qualified by other statements in the text. As to excerpts from the Federalist, the entire series, or at least all of Madison's share, must be considered which, as noted, makes suspect any interpretation friendly to nullification.

None of the quotations offered in support of the theory passes these tests. Also, although the Resolutions and other documents cited by neo-nullifiers contain comments supportive of states' rights, they do not propose nullification. The Kentucky Resolutions of 1799 did indeed claim that "a nullification, by [states], of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument [the Constitution] is the rightful remedy." However, all that the Kentucky Resolutions did was to protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts and recommend their repeal. The Virginia Resolutions and Report do not claim a right of nullification; they speak of "interposition" between the federal government and the people, but limit any such action to a protest. Argumentative padding cannot be taken seriously as precedent, let alone as constitutional analysis.
Each of the authors elsewhere recognized the danger of an extreme states' rights position. Nullifiers dismiss such inconvenient statements; for example, it is asserted that "Madison was notoriously inconsistent in what he espoused and what he later claimed to mean." [129]  Yet they offer up his convenient comments as though they were holy writ.

In attempting to dramatize his theory, Woods sets up a straw man: "We are asking under what conditions liberty is more likely to flourish: with a multiplicity of competing jurisdictions, or one giant jurisdiction?"[130]  There isn't, never was, and never will be one giant jurisdiction, nor is anyone proposing that.
Finally, we must return to the original question: what does "nullification" really mean? Assuming that a state has "nullified" a federal law, i.e., declared it void and unenforceable, so what? Nullification theorists seem to think that the debate is over, and that the federal law is void simply because a state legislature has said so. "With the exception of a constitutional amendment, the federal government cannot oppose (except perhaps rhetorically), these actions to nullify an unconstitutional federal law without resorting to extra-legal measures or violence." [131]  Nonsense: the feds can ignore the purported nullification and enforce the law. Unless nullifiers are prepared to offer armed resistance, in which case they have passed over into rebellion and have abandoned the compact they claim to uphold, nullification is just so much talk or, to lend it more elegance and a semblance of substance, the forceful expression of an opinion.
Nullification isn't supported by any plausible constitutional theory; it simply is declared to be a right because its advocates think that it ought to be. It is a refuge for those who have been unable to prevail politically at the national level, and is motivated by a dislike of government. The notion that each state should be able to decide which federal laws to obey not is only unfounded and an invitation to chaos, it is just silly.
Those who oppose questionable uses of power by the federal government, such as surveillance, excessive secrecy, drone assassinations or indefinite detention would make more of a contribution if they worked to change those policies and practices through political means, rather retreating into fantasy land.
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115. 545 US 1 (2005)
116. Thomas Woods, "State Nullification and the Supremacy Clause," apparently quoting a statement by Professor Donald Livingston:
http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/20i3/03/ii/state-nullification-and-the-supremacy-clause/#.Uhwy KynVw
117. Joe Wolverton, II, 'The Case for Nullification,"
http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2012/06/03/the-case-for-nullification/#.UkB-Do_n9T0
118. http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/io/2i/nullification-firearms-freedom-act-introduced-in-ohio/#.UjUsbI_n9To
119. Woods, "State Nullification: What Is It?" http://www.libertyclassroom.com/nullification/
120.
Patrick Krey, "Nullification in a Nutshell," 18 February 2010: http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/history/item/4772-nullification-in-a-nutshell
121. Patrick Krey, "State vs. Federal: The Nullification Movement,"18 February 2010:http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/7701-state-vs-federal-the-nullification-movement
122. Similarly, Jamie Raskin, law professor and Maryland State Senator, described the secession movement by some counties in that state as "a protest movement, not a serious campaign to change political geography."
123.All quotes or references to Woods' views are, unless otherwise noted, to "Is Nullification Unconstitutional?" http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/20 I^/02/07/is-nullification-unconstitutional/
124. The last two quotes are from Woods, "State Nullification and the Supremacy Clause," http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/03/11/state-nullification-and-the-supremacy-clause/#.UhwyKY_n_Vw
125. Ibid.
126. "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union;..." Constitution, Article IV, Section 3
127. A sovereignty within a sovereignty. The quotation is from Federalist 15.
128. Garry Wills, Explaining America: The Federalist, pp. 174, 172.
130. Woods, "Nullification: Answering the Objections" http://www.libertyclassroom.com/objections/
131. Derek Sheriff, "Nullification in One Lesson, "http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2012/11/14/nullification-in-one-lesson/#.UkCJRY_n9T0