Nullification (U.S. Constitution)From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Nullification is a legal theory that a U.S. State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional. The theory is based on a view that the sovereign States formed the Union, and as creators of the compact hold final authority regarding the limits of the power of the central government. Under this, the compact theory, the States and not the Federal Bench are the ultimate interpreters of the extent of the federal government's power. A more extreme assertion of state sovereignty than nullification is the related action of secession, by which a state terminates its political affiliation with the Union.
State efforts to nullify federal law have not been legally upheld. The courts have held that the states do not have the power to nullify federal law. The courts have found that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and federal law therefore trumps state law in the event of a conflict. The courts have found that the Constitution, by granting final appellate power to the Supreme Court in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, empowers the federal courts (not the states) to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal and state laws. The Supreme Court has rejected the compact theory that underlies the idea of nullification.
One of the earliest and most famous examples of attempted nullification is to be found in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts. In these resolutions, authors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that "the states" are the ultimate interpreters of the Constitution and can "interpose" to protect state citizens from the operation of unconstitutional national laws. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were not accepted by any of the other states. The power of "the states" is distinct from the power of a single state. James Madison clearly denounced the concept of nullification by a single state, as unconstitutional, in his writings.    James Madison eloquently wrote, "But it follows, from no view of the subject, that a nullification of a law of the U. S. can as is now contended, belong rightfully to a single State, as one of the parties to the Constitution; the State not ceasing to avow its adherence to the Constitution. A plainer contradiction in terms, or a more fatal inlet to anarchy, cannot be imagined." 
While some interests in northern states occasionally considered the possibility of nullification or secession after Jefferson's party gained control of the federal government in the years after 1801, for example at the Hartford Convention, the idea of nullification increasingly became associated with matters pertaining to slavery. The most famous statement of the theory of nullification, authored by John C. Calhoun, appeared in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest of 1828. Four years later, during the Nullification Crisis, South Carolina undertook to nullify a federal tariff law and a subsequent federal bill authorizing the use of force against the state. President Andrew Jackson denied that South Carolina had the power to nullify federal statutes, and prepared to enforce federal law forcibly if necessary. James Madison, author of the Virginia Resolution, also weighed in at this time, stating that the Virginia Resolution should not be interpreted to mean that each state has the right to nullify federal law. The issue was made moot by a enactment of compromise tariff bill.
Northern states in the 1840s and 1850s attempted to block enforcement of the pro-slavery federal Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. The most famous examples of this centered around northern states' personal liberty laws. These personal liberty laws had the practical effect, in many local situations, of nullifying the effectiveness of the federal fugitive slave statutes. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 in the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842), finding that the Fugitive Slave Act was authorized by the Constitution's fugitive slave clause (Article IV, Section 2). The Court found that Pennsylvania's personal liberty law was unconstitutional because it conflicted with the fugitive slave clause. The Court thus rejected Pennsylvania's attempt to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act.
The Supreme Court again dealt with the issue of northern abrogation of the federal fugitive slave statutes in the case of Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859). The courts of Wisconsin had held the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional and had ordered the release of a prisoner who was prosecuted in federal district court for violation of the Act. The Supreme Court held that Wisconsin did not have the power to nullify federal law or to prevent federal officials from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. The Court held that in adopting the Supremacy Clause, the people had made federal law superior to state law and had provided that in the event of a conflict, federal law would control. Further, the Court found that the people had delegated the judicial power, including final appellate authority, to the federal courts with respect to cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Therefore, the people had given the federal courts final authority to determine the constitutionality of federal statutes. Accordingly, the Court held that the Wisconsin court did not have the power to declare unconstitutional statutes that had been upheld by the federal courts or to interfere with federal enforcement of those statutes.
Nullification and the related doctrine of interposition resurfaced in the 1950s in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), which decided that segregated schools were illegal. At least ten southern states passed various measures preserving segregated schools and refusing to follow the Brown decision. The advocates of these measures argued that the Brown decision was unconstitutional and that the states had the inherent power to prevent that decision from being enforced within their borders. However, the Supreme Court rejected this idea in the case of Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), finding that the state governments had no power to nullify the Brown decision. The Supreme Court held that the Brown decision and its implementation "can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation." Thus, Cooper v. Aaron held that state attempts to nullify federal court rulings are ineffective.
 External links2010 State-by-State Nullification Efforts
South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, November 24, 1832
Nullification Revisited, An article examining the constitutionality of nullification (from a favorable aspect, and with regard to both recent and historical events)
Nullification Overview, A research paper examining nullification bluntly (from a student perspective, and keeping other events in mind.)
Know Your States' Rights, Review of historian Thomas Woods' book on the subject in the American Conservative
 References^ Madison, James "Letter to Mathew Carey", Library of Congress, July 27, 1831.
^ Madison, James "Letter to Nicholas P. Trist", Library of Congress, December, 1831.
^ Madison, James "Letter to Nicholas P. Trist", Library of Congress, December 23, 1832.
^ Madison, James "Notes, On Nullification", Library of Congress, December, 1834.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullification_(U.S._Constitution)"
Categories: United States Constitution | Legal history of the United States
Hidden categories: Articles needing additional references from December 2008 | All articles needing additional references | Articles that may contain original research from January 2009 | All articles that may contain original research
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