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What is nullification?

It is a concept that was originally written by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 in The Kentucky Resolutions. Nullification is the act of the states to undo legislation by the federal government that the federal government does not have the authority to pass.

When Jefferson wrote about nullification he was battling this question; what happens when the federal government oversteps its Constitutional Authority? Jefferson argued that if the states formed the federal government and ratified the Constitution, then the states have the power to decide if the federal government is in line with the Constitution, not the federal government.

In other words, the states get to be the final judge on federal law, not the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is an agent of the federal government and according to Jefferson could not be trusted to keep itself in line with the Constitution. The states, however, have all of the power not given in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. Jefferson argued that the Tenth Amendment allows for states to tell the federal government, no. Simply tell them that their law will not be put on the citizens of their state. Jefferson further explains that the states are not united on a principle of unlimited submission to the federal government.

Think about the logic behind nullification. My son tells me that he is going to bed in an hour. I tell him, "No you are going to bed now!" I do not need to confer with him, nor have any other ruling body, nor convince him that it is the right thing to do. I have the authority in my home not him, therefore I don’t undo his decision I simply ignore it. I nullify it!

So how does nullification work?

If the federal government passes a law that is unconstitutional the state legislature just simply writes a resolution, passes it in both houses, then sends it to the be signed by the governor telling the federal government that the law does not exist in Texas. No Supreme Court case, no lawyers, Texas simply says no. This is well within the states duties and rights.

If that is not enough, then you have the Virginia Resolution of that same year written by James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution. In this document he tells Virginia that the only way the union to survive is for the states to watch over the federal government and exercise only the powers assigned to them and agreed upon in the Constitution.


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