“Nullification,” Woods writes, “begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the Constitution is no law at all. It is void and of no effect.” If the law is unconstitutional, “it is up to the states, the parties to the federal compact, to declare it so and thus refuse to enforce it.”
In Chapter 2, Woods reviews the sections of the Constitution which have been used to justify most unconstitutional laws. First, he explains why the “general welfare” clause does not justify federal expenditures in areas not otherwise delegated to the national government by the Constitution. Second, Woods argues that the Commerce Clause merely authorizes Congress to establish a free market for trade between the states. Finally, Woods details why the “necessary and proper” clause is not a substantive grant of power to Congress.
Nullification began with Jefferson’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, in which those states “protested the Alien and Sedition Acts and urged the states to take actions against them.” Other acts of protest followed: the New England states’ opposition to Jefferson’s 1807 trade embargo, Ohio’s objection to the 2nd National Bank in 1820, and South Carolina’s call for nullification of the “Tariff of Abominations” in 1832-33, among many others.
For modern applications of nullification, Woods directs the reader to the Legislative Tracking page at www.tenthamendmentcenter.com, which maintains a current list of state actions against federal laws. Woods concludes this excellent work with the original sources: Part II contains 11 historical documents that expound the principle of nullification.
Easy-to-understand and highly persuasive, “Nullification” is a must-read for citizens interested in resisting unconstitutional federal legislation.
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