Nullification refers to a state’s freedom to oppose federal statutes that are considered unconstitutional. State nullification, as described by Thomas Jefferson, is the principle that ” states may and must refuse to obey unconstitutional federal laws” (Woods). The doctrine of nullification was first mentioned in the drafts of Virginia and Kentucky resolutions theorized by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison from 1798 to 1799. The legal basis for state nullification stems from the fact that states came together to form a confederation, i.e., the central government, and thus the states, as fundamental members of the national union, should be able to decide the powers exerted by the federal government. Furthermore, states are the legitimate interpreters of the central government’s legal powers and so the states should be able to nullify any legislation by the central government the states determine as being below the federal administration’s powers. However, as history has shown, federal courts have repeatedly squashed any instances of nullification by applying the constitution’s supremacy clause which openly proclaims that a national constitutional power is supreme over state laws. Also, Article iii of the Constitution states that federal judiciary is the sole and the final decision maker on legal interpretation (Nullification crisis). In 2010, Debra Medina, a grassroots leader came forward to defend state nullification powers of the state of Texas. This paper will first examine the basis of Debra Medina’s claims then the essay will provide reasons to support the nullification argument.
Debra Medina decided to run for the Texas gubernatorial seat. Debra’s primary campaign rhetoric was on restoration of the state government’s sovereignty by advocating for state nullification. Debra vigorously defended her argument that the state should retain ultimate power on legal interpretation and should be able to reject any laws the state of Texas deemed as unconstitutional or unfair. From (Debra Medina on State Sovereignty), Debra asserts that the constitution is an agreement between the people to create the centralized government composed of the self-governing states and therefore, a power not given to the federal government is to be left only for the people and states. From the assertion, Debra defends her claim basing her argument as consequence of the constitution first and secondly as an intrinsic right of the people of the United States of America. Secondly, Medina proposes that, as Texas is among the states that agreed to form the federal government, Texans should come together to fight any instances of constitutional misapplication and abuse of fundamental human rights by the federal government. Thirdly, Debra addressed individuals and families of Texas saying that with her guidance and leadership, all Texans could come together in unity and boldly declare NO to the Washington whenever they exceed the constitutional boundaries. She further claimed that as Texans are firm believers of the family as the footing of American greatness, the Texans, therefore, know what is best for family, how to raise children, and how to use the hard-earned money. And so in no way should the Texans allow the national government to infringe on the State’s sovereignty. “By asserting her Constitutional sovereignty, Texas can protect her citizens and provide them the opportunity to succeed. As Governor, I promise to fight back against federal laws that unconstitutionally interfere with the lives of Texans” (Debra Medina on State Sovereignty). From the later statement by Debra Medina, Debra states the purpose of the gubernatorial bid.
Some of the immediate issues that prompted Debra Medina to push for the state nullification agenda are as follows. Medina says that the incumbent governor had done nothing against the federal government from all the numerous times the government had stepped outside the confines of the constitution. She goes further to say that nationalization of health care was unconstitutional, “All of America knows there’s no constitutional basis for nationalizing health care” (Medina). Healthcare is an issue that Debra believed should have been nullified. Another issue posed by Medina was the problem presented by property tax. Medina goes ahead to explain that Texas has by the fact that Texas has exceptionally high property levy rates, people own their property. When taxes on the individual property are too high, one ends up paying much higher than the income the property generates and sometimes one might end up indebted to the government. Another issue that Medina addresses is the matter of eminent domain abuse. Eminent power is the law that the government can take private property for public use. In Texas, the mentioned power to acquire property was shamelessly abused during the incumbent’s reign according to Debra Medina (Medina). By state nullification, the mentioned problems become fightable by the states.
State nullification has merit because of some reasons. First, the state government’s powers are clearly defined by one of the sacred constitutional drafts; The Declaration of Independence that the states are free and independent and therefore the states “have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do” (Woods). Furthermore, from the Articles of Confederation, the articles state that the states “retain their sovereignty, freedom, and independence” (Woods). Finally, by the fact that the constitution was put together by the separate ratifications of different states and so one unitary body should not make final decisions for all the states that came together to form the same union.
Another reason that merits state nullification is the fact that the Americans are the sovereigns and not the government, for it is the people who share the power among themselves and with state and federal governments. Therefore, since the people are the sovereigns whenever the federal government misappropriates the constitution’s mandate, the Americans are then proper arguer for the same people must examine whether the system was meant to wield such power over the law. To expound further, by the sovereignty held by the people in the American system, the people must keep the ability to provide check and balances for the national government the sovereigns created.
State nullification should be the norm because the founding fathers themselves envisioned the idea of nullification. Thomas Jefferson was the principal writer of The Declaration of Independence, and James Madison is regarded as the “father of the constitution” because James was involved in creation and promotion of America’s first constitution. From the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson proposed nullification as “the rightful remedy when the federal government reaches beyond its constitutional powers” (Woods). James Madison stated that the states were “duty bound to resist when the federal government violated the Constitution” (Woods). Therefore, by the fact, the two founding fathers mentioned saw the importance of state nullification, it is essential to give state nullification a serious consideration.
Another reason that supports the idea of nullification as a likely occurrence is that in recent years some other forms of nullification have taken root. A case in point is when the state of California legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes while ignoring the federal government’s stand on the illegality of marijuana use. Further nullification went ahead till now were over fifteen states have legalized use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. From the reason that nullification has received success in some instances then state nullification has merit.
In conclusion, even though Debra Medina didn’t win, Debra went ahead to garner tremendous support in the race for the governor’s seat. For Debra to attain many votes, it means many people are serious about state nullification. From the support of the constitution, the fact founders created nullification, the recent success of nullification and from the support garnered by Debra, it’s is apparent that the nullification argument has substantial merit.
Debra Medina on State Sovereignty. 18 September 2009. 30 November 2017
Medina, Debra. Interview shocker: Debra Medina Glenn Beck. n.d.
Nullification crisis. n.d. 30 November 2017
Woods, Tom. “State Nullification: What is It?” n.d. Tom Woods’s LibertyClassroom: The History and Economics they Didn’t Teach You. 30 November 2017