Federal Power Grabs and How to Combat Them

Saturday, July 3, 2010
By Paul Martin

by John Seiler

Two images. During the ongoing BP oil spill, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal attacking the U.S. Coast Guard for delaying barges that can suck up crude oil from the water. And during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency making water-laden relief trucks from Wal-Mart turn around, continuing the thirsty suffering of the people of New Orleans.

That’s why the book of the hour is Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, by historian Thomas E. Woods Jr. Nullification addresses an essential point: What if the federal government does something really bad? To whom does one appeal? The answer: Under the U.S. Constitution and strong historical precedent, the states actually can tell the feds to take a hike – that is, nullify federal actions. They can break what Woods calls “monopoly” government by the feds.

“In modern America, the Constitution has become The Great Unmentionable,” he writes. “Where the federal government derives constitutional authorization for its various activities is hardly ever considered or discussed. The maverick journalist who does pose the forbidden question is laughed at or ignored.”

Tell me about it.

The U.S. Constitution clearly established a federal government – that is, a federation of what the Declaration of Independence called “free and independent states.” And the 10th Amendment guaranteed “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.”

The first big usurpation was the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 of President John Adams, a revolutionary hero who should have known better, limiting criticism of government. In rebuttal, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which began: “1. Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general [federal] government … and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”

Temporarily rebuffed, the feds eventually began grabbing unconstitutional powers. Woods details several major struggles:

Before the Civil War, some Northern states used nullification to ignore the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, refusing to turn over slaves to be taken back into bondage.
States have been resisting the Obamacare socialized medicine mandates.
In California, the 1996 initiative legalizing medical marijuana was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was the centralizing liberals Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg who backed federal power to usurp the states’ authority to decide who does and doesn’t toke. Yet, as Woods notes, the court’s decision largely is ignored by state and local authorities, an act of defiance – and nullification – increasingly occurring across the land.

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