Ignoring central government will not make it go awayby Diane Roberts / June 19, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, recently told an Anglo-German conference that if national parliaments don’t like a Brussels diktat they should be able to show the “red card” to the European Union. I wonder if he knows that US states have been trying to kick Washington out of the game for nearly 230 years. In April, the Kansas legislature passed the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” contending Kansans could manufacture and sell all the guns they like, and own as many Kansas-made guns they want—even semi-automatic weapons—without being subject to any federal licensing rules or laws. If some agent from the DC Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to Kansas and tries to enforce US law on “Made in Kansas” guns, he or she will be charged with a felony and could face prison time.
Missouri, Alaska, Mississippi and 34 other states have passed similar laws. Florida and Illinois have banned federal drones over their territories (just in case), Texas wants to ignore the federal Clean Air Act, while Arizona and Alabama mean to run their own immigration policy in direct conflict with the national enforcement agency. Despite the US Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” South Carolina, and a passel of other conservative-run states, want to reject it as a violation of their “sovereignty.”
The historical term for defiance of central government by state governments is nullification, though perhaps we should call the 21st century iteration neo-nullification. The theory, as articulated by Senator John C Calhoun in the 1820s, asserts “the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government.” Of course, it depends on what “unconstitutional” means and who gets to decide. In 1828, Congress passed a tariff act aimed at protecting the industrialising north from cheap imported goods. Southern states protested that it hurt their profits, since the British had less money to buy their cotton. Though the tariff was softened in 1832 under President Andrew Jackson, Calhoun, his vice-president, resigned. Calhoun’s home state of South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declared the tariffs unconstitutional, and called up militias to defend against federal troops.