What is Nullification? Who can do it?

Nullification. It’s a word being kicked around a lot these days — from radio talk show hosts, to TV journalists, to the halls of legislature.

I guess the idea came from the 1976 film “Network,” starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall and others. In the film, fictionalized TV news anchor Howard Beale became so enraged that he publicly challenged his viewers to shout out of their windows, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Nullification is sorta’ like that. As noted previously in these pages, our elected officials are passing literally thousands of new laws every year, each preventing us from doing one thing or the other. I have challenged you, the reader, to identify just one human activity that is not controlled by one or more government rulings. No takers.

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But the fictitious news anchor Howard Beale wasn’t the first to reach the end of his rope. How about Dr. Martin Luther King? If course, he called it “civil disobedience.” And he not only got away with it, but has been idolized ever since for having practiced it.

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How about Ferguson? Were those just protesters seeking redress of their grievances through their version of “civil disobedience”? Attorney General Holder and the Revered Al Sharpton seemed to think so, but I imagine those whose shops were looted, pillaged, and burned might have other words for it.

So what do we do when we are subjected to laws we feel are improper — even unconstitutional? The simple answer has always been to get enough people of like mind together, and influence our lawmakers to change them. And if they won’t, change the lawmakers who made them. But in this era of professional “public servants” remaining in office for 30, 40, or even 50 years, and with $millions of tax dollars at their disposal, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Is nullification the answer? Perhaps so. On issues from healthcare, to the right to keep and bear arms, to unwarranted government surveillance, at least 13 nullification bills moved forward in states this past week, with the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously passing the Phil Timp-Amanda Wilcox Right to Try Act that nullifies Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prevent terminally ill patients from accessing treatments not yet approved.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “When a long train of abuses and usurpations. . . evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” In his Notes on Nullification 1834, James Madison wrote, Without nullification, The States and The People would be under the absolute and unlimited control of the federal government.” So it appears to be the right thing to do. But can you and I practice “nullification,” and only obey those laws we agree with? James Madison, writing in Federalist Paper #46, seemed to think so. However, I doubt that such leniency would actually extend to you who are likely to be readers of these columns.

Of course there are already those who ignore government laws and regulations, without actually calling it “nullification.” Does the Reverend Al Sharpton’s $4.5 million in unpaid taxes come to mind? And just this week, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign vehicle, which she calls the “Scooby Doo,” was clocked at 92 mph in a “driving rainstorm” on Connecticut’s I-89, which has a 65 mph speed limit. Did she get stopped? Of course not. Don’t be silly!

But, as noted previously, states are beginning to oppose Federal laws and regulations that encroach on liberties relegated to the states under the terms of the US Constitution. And such encroachments are many — health care, childhood education, and the conduct of elections are just a few that come to mind.

Our Tennessee General Assembly has already made a start. Now let’s see just how far they are willing to make it go. Is it possible that Obamacare can be next?

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