Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century

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Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Regnery * 2010 * 309 pages * $24.95

How can Americans restrain an out-of-control federal government that won't recognize any constitutional limits on its power? In Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 2 ist Century, Thomas Woods argues that state invalidation of federal laws could be the answer.

First, though, Woods identifies what almost certainly won't work: trying to effect change by sending different politicians to Washington or by fighting in the federal courts.

Trying to elect a president, senators, or representatives who will respect limits on federal power won't work because no matter what they promise, politicians inevitably end up pandering to special interests to get campaign contributions and votes.

Trying to get the federal courts to limit federal power won't work either, because those courts are, after all, part of the federal government. The president and the Senate take great care to make sure they don't put anyone on the Supreme Court who would stop them from doing whatever they want.

Thus, Woods observes, the federal government gets to decide what the Constitution means and to make its own rules. No wonder it only gets bigger. "If the federal government has the exclusive power to judge the extent of its own power," he writes, "it will continue to grow - regardless of elections, the separation of powers and other much-touted limits on government power."

Woods's solution to this problem is nullification - that is, recognizing the right of state governments to stand up to the federal government by declaring federal laws unconstitutional and refusing to enforce them.

This may sound radical and shocking to Americans who have been taught since grade school that the U.S. Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of what is constitutional. But as Woods shows, the concept is not new and was invoked numerous times in the early decades of the country's existence. For example, in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, written by James Madison, Virginia declared the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional. Kentucky did the same in its Resolutions of 1799, written by Thomas Jefferson. Both looked to the state governments to protect their citizens from enforcement of the illegal federal laws. And before the Civil War northern states invoked nullification in refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. …