We talk a lot about the moral, historical and philosophical legitimacy of nullification here at the Tenth Amendment Center. But more importantly, we aim to show you that nullification actually works.
Obviously, we hold the principles of nullification in high regard. Heck, I wrote and entire book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty, on the subject. But ideas mean nothing unless we can put them into concrete action and actually advance the cause of liberty.
That raises the fundamental question: does nullification work?
At its core, nullification seeks to make an act, "null, void or simply unenforceable." One method to accomplish this centers around non-compliance. In other words simply ignore the unconstitutional, unjust act.
A peaceful demonstration during a "4/20″ celebration in Philadelphia illustrates the effectiveness of this tactic. These folks probably weren't thinking about "nullification." Most of them likely didn't even intend to make a political statement. They just wanted a little buzz. Nevertheless, their demonstration reveals the powerlessness of "authority" when large numbers of people refuse to acknowledge the validity of a "law."
A little background for those not immersed in the weed culture (that would include me, by the way). The term 420 evolved into a code-word for pot smokers. (You can read the story HERE.) As a result, April 20 became sort of a subculture holiday. For our purposes, you really just need to know that people gather together on April 20 and get high.
Last year on April 20th, more than 500 people gathered near Independence Hall (the irony there should not be lost on you) to celebrate 4/20 in their unique way. National Parks Service rangers and police simply looked the other way as the crowd ignored state and federal law, much to the chagrin of Michael Marcarvage.
Marcarvage reportedly showed up to "share the gospel of Jesus Christ." Incensed by the blatant disregard of the law, he insisted police and federal park rangers step in and do something.
"They're smoking marijuana over here," he said to the ranger. "And you're letting them do that.."
The officer basically dodges the question, pointing out that the group has a valid permit to gather in the park.
But Marcarvage presses on.
"I would like you to enforce the law. You have children out here passing by the sidewalk. You can arrest me if you want, but I'm not going to tolerate the police doing nothing about this." he said. "You're not going to stop these people from smoking marijuana in public? It's illegal. It's a violation of the law here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. "
Getting nowhere, he demands to speak to a supervisor. When the supervising federal park ranger shows up, Marcarvage determines the officer is aware of the "activity" and asks, "Are you going to enforce the law?"
At this point, we are treated to a demonstration of the power of noncompliance nullification.
"We don't have the resources to combat that right now," the officer says. "There's probably upwards of 500 to 700 people over there."
There you have it. No resources means no enforcement.
Whether you agree or disagree with marijuana laws, the incident last Saturday demonstrates an important truth: authorities cannot enforce "laws" large number of people refuse to acknowledge. Those folks outside Independence Hall effectively nullified marijuana laws.
And the truth a bunch pot-heads demonstrated in Philly at the micro level applies on the macro level as well.
Imagine 20 or 30 states refusing to enforce federal acts violating the Second Amendment.
Imagine 20 or 30 states refusing to cooperate with indefinite detention provisions written into the NDAA.
Imagine 20 or 30 states refusing to lift a finger to set up or run the national health care act.
The feds would certainly bluster, badger and throw a temper tantrum. But when when all was said and done, they would simply have to say, "We don't have the resources to combat that right now."
In the principles of nullification, we have within our grasp "means of opposition…powerful and at hand" when the federal government acts outside of its proper powers. As James Madison wrote before the Constitution was even ratified:
The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union, the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassment created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, very serious impediments; and were the sentiments of several adjoining States happen to be in Union, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
Nullification is not just "the rightful remedy."