The time has come to revisit nullification, the quintessentially American mode of resistance against federal lawlessness that Thomas Jefferson urged as an essential ingredient of our political system. In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Jefferson insisted that the states needed a way to defend themselves against unconstitutional exercises of power by the federal government. Jefferson’s fear was that if the federal government had a monopoly on defining the scope of its own powers, it would be constantly discovering new ones. Likewise, James Madison urged in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 that the states were “duty bound to resist” when the federal government violated the Constitution. (The reader will not be surprised to learn that Bill Clinton held no White House soiree in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of these documents in 1998.)
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Every couple of years the same drearily predictable charade repeats itself. This time we’re really going to limit government! Or so they tell us. We on the Right then dutifully compose our letters to the editor, attend rallies, and vote for candidates without whom, we are breathlessly assured, we shall all revert instantly to barbarism. And no matter who wins, the federal government grows and grows. The Right gets a bunch of pretty speeches, and the Left gets the victories.
The passive approach of crossing our fingers and hoping Washington will follow the Constitution has not worked. The only surprising thing about it is that anyone could have expected it to work in the first place. It is long past time for those of us who want to confine the federal government to its constitutional limits to try something different.
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