The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

GOP Members of Congress Push Amendment to ‘Nullify’ Federal Laws

By Heidi Beirich on May 12, 2011 - 12:56 pm, Posted in Antigovernment, Patriot Groups

Nullification — the idea that a state can simply refuse to follow federal laws when it doesn’t like them — has been popular of late. A traveling conference called “Nullify Now!” has been roving the country in the last year pushing this notion, with its events headlined by prominent figures in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement.

In addition, state lawmakers in recent months have introduced, but not passed, numerous bills to nullify federal initiatives like gun regulations and the new health care reform act. Some have sought to deny the authority of federal agents to act in state jurisdictions. Arizona’s Senate even passed a sweeping bill earlier this year that would create a legislative committee to “recommend, propose and call for a vote by simple majority to nullify in its entirety a specific federal law or regulation that is outside the scope of the powers delegated by the People to the federal government in the United States Constitution.”

Now, the movement is going national, with some Congressional GOP lawmakers pushing for legislation affecting the entire country. Their proposed constitutional amendment, a Tea Party favorite, would allow a vote by two-thirds of the states’ legislatures to override any federal law. According to the Talking Points Memo website, the amendment is being pushed by Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in the Senate and is co-sponsored by Sens. John Barasso (R-W.V.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). In the House, U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) are backing the amendment. These lawmakers, using traditional antigovernment language, claim their goal is to stop the tyranny of Washington over the economy and circumscribe other federal powers.

The amendment will be officially announced Thursday in a Capitol Hill press conference.

Nullification has a long and often sordid history in America. During the 1950s, Southerners revived the idea as a way to reject the federal government’s efforts to desegregate public schools. However, it was also used by anti-slavery Northerners to refuse to return runaway slaves in the run-up to the Civil War.

  • Bernie laForest

    I love groups that love to tell only one side of the story. In fact South Carolina wanted to secede from the union in one part because it felt that the northern states were nullifying too many laws.
    See the Supreme Court Case:
    Ableman v. Booth 1858
    herman M. Booth was charged before Winfield Smith, a commissioner duly appointed by the District Court of the United States for the district of Wisconsin, with having, on the 11th day of March, 1854, aided and abetted, at Milwaukee, in the said district, the escape of a fugitive slave from the deputy marshal, who had him in custody under a warrant issued by the district judge of the United States for that district, under the act of Congress of September 18, 1850.

    That runaway slave’s name was Joshua Glover. He was spirited away to Canada where he lived the rest of his life a free man. Wisconsin freed Sherman Booth, in essence nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act.

    Facts are stubborn things. Try putting them all out there.

  • skinnyminny

    Sam Molloy,
    I wouldn’t say that it’s animosity. Well, for me it’s not, actually. I am just pointing out the injustice. I guess I am also trying to point out, mainly when some of the people come and make statements that blacks are subhuman, that this is not true. I guess sort of a counter-argument. It also should be noted, that these stories usually don’t make top news, at least nationally. Then you have these same people who are closed-minded that think that all blacks want abortions, bad single parents…I forgot to note above, that the case of Long Beach, the alleged suspect was Latino. The female said there was no domestic violence. So the mystery is, who called the police?

    I hope you had a chance to look at the info Unocal and the study center – some of the entries says that Unocal was allegedly building an oil pipeline from that area to Turkey. So, again, this have me wondering if this is the reason for the extremely expensive gas prices. It’s at the point that you just never know. But for sure, a Pakistani official blasted reports about his country and blamed us for ‘radicalizing’ his schools/residents. Taken altogether, info from ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ and other info, it’s alot to take in.

  • skinnyminny

    Sam Molloy,
    I know! It’s interesting how states are acting independently and secretly passing, or changing laws. Yes, I know that sometimes I appear to be angry in my comments at times. However, I just try to be brief, blunt, and to the point. It does, however, concern me that some of the people to come every now and then say read the constitution…yet, they don’t realize that the constitution is suppose to apply to all citizens.

    And I mention about what’s happening here in Califas, because I truly believe it is out of control. Yesterday, in Long Beach, a woman interviewed by the news media, showed bullet holes that she alleges the police department fired upon her home – she says that 30 rounds were fired into her home by police – I think it was one office. It was reported that the police responded for a domestic violence call, and that her fiance’ was hit.

    Last week, in Riverside, Califas, a man shot two people to death, the police shot him to death. Google the story, ‘turbulent relationship sparked slayings,’ and see the story in the Riverside, P.E. COM 5-11-2011. What is interesting about this case, the staff writers viewed the court case about this, and the female victim allegedly said in court deposition that ‘Riverside, is known for shooting people without weapons, and she lied and told police he attacked her because she wanted the police to shoot him.’ From what I understand, the guy was about 6’4″ so, I’m guessing you have a black man that have already killed two people, he will not stand a chance at being ordered to drop a weapon.

    BTW, here is something that may interest you. First, let me say, I’m not saying this is true – I will let you be the judge of this. There are rumors that from 1984 to 1994 USAID paid University of Nebraska millions of dollars to develop and design textbrooks for the madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also alleged, that Unocal funded this Center for Afghanistan Studies at the same university. There are listings that say, USA prints textbooks to support Jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that it says a Bush nominee for ambass. to Afghan is former paid adviser to Unocal. ***I thought this was pretty interesting, because an official for Pakistan did say that we were responsible for the books sent there. Hmmm!

  • Sam Molloy

    Skinnyminnie, I finally heard something on a Louisville station about the 4th Amendment in Indiana. What I understood them to say means the State Supreme Court of Indiana has declared it illegal to resist Police entry even if you believe it to be wrong at the time. I would let them in anyway, and it could save people from getting all bullet riddled if the PoPo gets the address wrong but I can see that there could reasonabe discussions about the constitutionality of this.

  • Sam Molloy

    I have made it a point to live where the economy is booming, until the recent downturn, and if kids have a job waiting for them they get in a whole lot less trouble. Getting kids of all colors to show up and stay off the cell phone can be difficult, but when the company needs them badly they tend to correct issues and not just fire them. The current job climate is a Republican’s dream world. People will try hard to keep a job, and if not they can simply be discarded like any other piece of company owned equipment.

  • Sam Molloy

    Skinny, the cases in Indiana I mentioned were white. America has 5 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of it’s prisoners, more per capita than China so there is something wrong somewhere. I like to point out that violent criminals are released early to make room for minor offenders but I’m not a criminologist. I do sense a certain animosity between Blacks and Law Enforcement, and I know of a case where an Intake Officer liked to treat Blacks badly (I know because there was video and he was fired but there are undoubtably others).

  • skinnyminny

    Dwayne Stovall,
    I’ll tell you what’s unconstitutional. It is unconstitutional for minorities, mainly blacks and Latinos, to be locked up and imprisoned at a much higher rate than whites for the same type or crime, or lesser crime than whites. It is unconstitutional for minorities to still face civil rights violations that are discounted or ignored. States rights! You say power belong to the people! Try looking at the case called, ‘the gang behind the badge; 3000 boys club.’ That’s right sir! These LASD are accused of beating up on fellow deputies and inmates alike, and allegedly bragging about their ‘kills,’ *I assume this is of suspects/jail inmates. This mainly became public after some of the deputies were accused of getting into an off duty bar fight. Some of the media is showing pictures that are alleged to be the deputies holding gang signs and having tattoos with 3000 boys, showing black jail inmates with bruises and the inmates saying they fear for their life, as well as disguised deputies saying they fear for their life…If this is true, then I don’t think the states will be able to clean up this mess. It will take the feds to come back to Los Angeles and issue proper indictments. And personally, I think they need to go and look at LAPD as well – there have been so many shootings of suspects (at least 2 were autistic, and 1 bi-polar).

    You say look at the Arab world. We have, and I have come to the conclusion that we are more or less like India. Look at India and see the caste system, the homeless…BTW, we have traits of the Arab world as well, with the GOP trying to force Christianity down everyone’s throat. Explain to me how we are any different from the Arab world when it comes to religion – more specifically, some Arab countries, well, let’s change that to some Muslim countries make it difficult, if not dangerous to be a Christian, whereas here, if you’re not Christian, life can be difficult, if not dangerous – which may either be in fact, a racial hate crime. Here in Califas, we have had a Sikh Indian mistaken for a Muslim. Tea Party participants holding derogatory and threatening signs about our president. So, again, explain to me how are we different. I’ve seen some of the signs in the Arab world with signs that are derogatory and threatening about us. Please, enlighten me! I’ll wait!

  • Sam Molloy

    Skinny, this interests me and I’d like to hear more about it. I don’t recall seeing reports of any new legislation on this issue but I could be wrong. There have been several recent Indiana cases of a casual encounter or a traffic stop being used successfully as probable cause to search a home where drugs or meth labs have been found. The lawyers of these career criminals try to get their client out on a technicality but in Indiana they can pretty much do their complaining in jail.

  • Deep Ecology

    Skinnyminny, respectfully, your asking a loaded question that has less to do with nullification than application of constitutional law. In this case, a state supreme court has determined that police can use their own judgement as to time and circumstances to serve a warrant without knocking.

    Nullification theory is based upon the idea of states and the federal judiciary as having the right to determine the extent and scope of Federal powers.

    Nullification and ones opinion of it greatly depends on the Federal law imposed on the state. As an outspoken environmentalist, I completely supported local and state efforts to overturn Federal decisions on energy leasing and timber management under the Bush administration, but these decisions were forced upon local communities despite majority opposition in the area affected by them by Congress and the Federal Judiciary.

    The decision by California to effectively decriminalize marijuana is another example of the Federal government imposing its decree against the majority decision of its state citizens.

    So full disclosure, am not an active advocate of nullification, but am certainly sympathetic to the frustration many feel when local and state concerns are sublimated to Federal decisions that sacrifice local communities to a common, national “good”.

  • skinnyminny

    I guess you think it’s a good idea, that, just yesterday, Indiana nullified the 4th Amendment. That’s right, the law essentially says that the police do not need to knock to come in your house. The police do not need to ask permission to enter…(it is alleged that lawmakers are saying they didn’t nullify the 4th Amendment, rather, they have modernized it. Yeah right!)

  • Sam Molloy

    A recent article reprinted in liberal UTNE magazine cited evidence that the world’s most successful countries, like Finland and some others, are about the size of our states. Bigger countries collapse or survive as a name only because they overreach their capability to enforce all their little laws, laws that may not make sense for all of a large area anyway. That said, we absolutely do need federal enforcement of environmental laws and basic human rights, the very things the Tea Party and their ilk are trying to avoid through states rights.

  • Mitch Beales

    States have no rights whatsoever. All rights reside in the people. The people created the Constitution to grant certain powers (but not a single right) to the federal government. They have reserved powers not granted to the federal government for the people and may choose to grant some of those powers (but never rights) to the states. The Constitution grants the federal judiciary authority to interpret it and other laws. When state governments attempt to interpret the Constitution they usurp this power. That is why a Constitutional amendment is being proposed. (Good luck with that!) If such an amendment should pass I would hope that New York, California, and Illinois would quickly nullify laws that have them sending $1 to Washington for every 75 cents the federal government spends on them. That would quickly finish of the good ol’ USA which is only one reason such an amendment will never be adopted.

  • ModerateMike


    Can you cite some specific examples of how the federal government is “too big and out of control”? At what point is it “too big”? What does that even mean? For example, do you believe that the country’s financial institutions have demonstrated enough trustworthiness that they should be free from federal oversite? Do you feel that the federal government should not be able to engage in deficit spending during an economic crisis, even to prevent a recession from worsening? Do you believe that the medical industry has provided such high-quality, affordable care that we should be willing to bear any expense, even bankruptcy, rather than allow the federal government to get involved? Have you observed that state governments have done a better job than the federal government at protecting people from racial and ethnic discrimination?

    Please provide detailed answers and sources to back up your statements; don’t just answer “yes” or “no”. You probably think my questions are just rhetorical, but I really would like you to elaborate on your opinions. What you have said to far is too general for me to understand what you really want.

  • Snorlax

    I bet some of these nullifiers would like to nullify the Civil Rights Act and other civil rights legislation.

    This is a dangerous tactic and needs to be stopped by the courts.

  • Deep Ecology

    My fear (dealt with in a previous blog entry and fairly answered by SPLC moderators) is that far right extremism and nullification, or for that matter any movement which seeks to limit federal power and return it to states and local communities, will become synonymous in the minds of readers. Both sides of the political spectrum use nullification to advance their interests and agendas. None of us would prefer to live under the far right, extreme vision of the Northwest Republic, but I would imagine not have any difficulty claiming citizenship and common cause in the Second Vermont Republic.

  • Jason Rink

    Yes, Nullification has such a sordid history that Wisconsin used it in 1854 to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act. You know, that great federal law that demanded the return of of runaway slaves. Don’t buy the SPLC’s constant effort to frame this as a Republican issue or race issue. The Tenth Amendment Center, who is behind much of the current Nullification effort, was started in California during the Bush Administration. Not really your haven of right-wing conservatism. This is a trans-partisan issue. Both the left and the right can use Nullification to oppose federal violations of the Constitution.

  • Aron Levy

    Mr Stovall,

    Once again, the period in which it was used was during the ‘Articles of Confederation,’ a period in which the federal government was so weak they lacked the ability to print money, raise taxes, or form an army.

    The Constitution was written to reserve for the federal government what had once been the purview of the state government. We realized our error and corrected it. Nullification goes back in the wrong direction.

    KMC got it right. If power once again reverts to the states, the elites will be able to hold even more authority than they currently possess. This must not happen.

  • Dwayne Stovall

    Is it that hard to read the Constitution? Nullification is absolutely within the realm of State’s rights. How hard is it to understand that each State is sovereign? Each retain the powers given to the federal government (by the States) as well all those not given. If the federal government makes a law that is unconstitutional, it does not fall within the numerated powers and can be nullified by the States. It has been used before and the founders wrote about it as well.

  • KMC

    These GOP ideas of weak national govt & state govts in the hands of powerful elites who trampled on the common people HAS ALREADY BEEN TRIED AND FOUND NOT TO WORK IN THE USA…
    It’s called the period of the Articles of Confederation (1783-1789) and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was established to correct the serious problems that this laissez-faire stupidity caused…

    Enforce the Constitution in its entirety, not nullify it…

  • Deep Ecology

    So, is the movement itself, and by default, anarchism and libertarianism, a threat to progressive society or not? Its more extreme advocates take nullification as far as the right of a state or region to separate from the Federal Union and go its own way.

    These secession movements represent both extreme right (Northwest Republic) and Progressive Left (Second Vermont Republic).

  • Jon

    Is there nullification in California?
    The Feds are shutting down marijuana dispensaries even when the state has them legal.

  • Aron Levy

    Really? Orrin Hatch. That surprises me. While I very rarely, if ever, agree with the man, his jumping on the nullification bandwagon surprises me. I hadn’t thought he was a member of the Mad Tea Party crowd…

    In addition, Blogwhat, sure let’s nullify any and every federal law you dislike! Federal statutes against murder and theft keeping you from killing your neighbor and taking his car? Let’s nullify it!

    Wish you could still ’employ’ those darkies for no pay? Let’s nullify the 14th Amendment! (Note: term ‘darkies’ used for ironic purposes. Not language I normally use.)

    Want those shiftless old farts to go back to work in order to afford this nation’s amazingly inexpensive healthcare (irony, again)? Repeal Medicare!

    I could go on, and on, and on. And yes, I was being painfully hyperbolic. But it just goes to show you, where does the nullification stop once you get the ball rolling.


  • DrMJG

    Now we have a FOX contributor saying “Parts f the Constitution are unconstitutional”. The people pushing this are fully aware that most people do NOT understand what the constitution is or how it wrks or how it is implemented.

    A mentality of spoiled children, basically the “I don’t wanna” approach now has evolved into looking for “magic” such as nullification to accord for populist do overs, many of which are masques for getting people to vote ageist their own best interests.

    The ONE argument I cannot understand is how direct election of Senators is NOT in the interest of the people, while appointment by political hacks IS.

  • Blogwhat

    Not a bad idea.

    Because the Fed is now so big and out of control; it is our duty to put the power back where it belongs. With the people.

    American people have been dumbed-up to the point that they don’t even know what the Constitution is or who signed it.

    Time to stop being politically correct and running with the herd.

    Small Fed ruled by the people is the only way for America to survive. If you don’t think so, look at the Arab world…….

  • Jonas Rand

    Despite the neo-Confederates and “nullification” claims to the contrary, neither the USA nor the Confederacy were founded on this type of “states rights”. Nor were they founded on an ideal of extreme minarchism (however, the founding fathers were oligarchic and created an elite in early America).