Particulary after my last post, I found Derek Sheriff's analysis of "nullification" as a political means to oppose the federal government's usurpation of individual rights to be very interesting. Such an approach falls more broadly within the so-called "Tenth Amendment Movement" which seeks to resist "federal tyranny" based on the idea that the federal government's power is strictly limited to the enumerated powers, and that all other powers reside within the states. He points out that in response to the passage of the egregious Alien and Sedition Acts, then Vice-President Jefferson secretly drafted the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 "to convince state legislators that nullification was the most appropriate form of immediate resistance." Jefferson and James Madison ended up drafting what are now known as the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions:
1. Resolved, 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; and that 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 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.
From the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, secretly drafted by Thomas Jefferson in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts.
They argued that the Constitution was a "compact" or agreement among the states. Therefore, the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it and that if the federal government assumed such powers, acts under them would be void. So, states could decide the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.Sheriff explains the basis of the nullification approach:
While it is vital to point out that fundamentally we are fighting for individual rights whether at the federal or state level and that we should not replace a federal tyranny with 50 state ones, I think as a tactic, the concept of nullification does have potential. This is because, as a practical matter, I think we have a better chance of establishing and protecting individual rights when 50 different states compete rather than relying on changing one disconnected federal leviathan. As Sheriff says:
This scenario has nothing to do with overturning the constitutional order. In fact, it is precisely how the constitutional order was supposed to work in the first place. The use of nullification by states to neutralize acts of federal usurpation is both constitutional and revolutionary at the core. William J. Watkins explains it like this in his book, Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and their Legacy:
“The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, written over two decades after the colonies declared independence from Great Britain, represent a reaffirmation of the spirit of 1776. At the core, the Resolutions are intrepid statements in favor of self-government and limited central authority. A product of the political and constitutional battlegrounds of the 1790s, the resolutions serve to link the federal union created by the Constitution with the aspirations of the patriots of the American Revolution. Indeed the touch of the author of the Declaration of Independence is unmistakable when one reads the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798."
Unlike the reformist strategy which seeks to mobilize power within Washington, DC in order to reform and redirect that power, nullification seeks to diminish and redistribute that power through relentless, decentralized, but ideally coordinated, acts of state level, constitutional resistance.
Because government is such a dangerous concentration of power, American revolutionaries recognized the absolute necessity of limiting government power and dividing it into as many competing jurisdictions as possible. The hope was that under such an arrangement, the federal government would be held in check and people would have the option to move freely between more powerful, but competing states. Competition would keep their multiple jurisdictions from becoming intolerably oppressive.For activists, I think this approach, and the history behind it, is definitely worth considering.