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

Far-Right ‘Jury Nullification’ Concept Resurfaces in Marijuana Debate

Posted in Antigovernment, Nullification, Patriot by David Neiwert on April 4, 2014 - 4:17 pm

Citizens-Rule-BookCan members of juries really stand in judgment of the laws they are sworn to apply? Can jurors really choose to acquit someone of a crime because they believe a law is unjust?

This concept – known as “jury nullification” – has been promoted in previous decades by far-right extremists who sought to “nullify” a variety of federal laws by encouraging jurors not to enforce them. The cases involved civil rights laws, tax statutes and criminal acts by white perpetrators aagainst black victims. It was avidly promoted in the 1990s by members of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, particularly so-called “Freemen” in Montana who promoted the sovereign citizen ideology.

More recently, it has popped up in the context of the debate over marijuana legalization. It was signaled by a 2011 New York Times op-ed that advocated nullification in court battles over marijuana arrests, which disproportionately affect young black men.

A 2013 case, in which a medical marijuana dispensary owner was accused of breaking federal laws, gained even more attention after then-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner urged the jury to nullify the man’s arraignment. (The defendant eventually accepted a plea bargain.)

A 2012 case, in which a New Hampshire man accused of growing marijuana was found innocent by a local jury, is widely regarded as an instance of nullification. Recently, New Hampshire magazine ran an article examining the question titled “Understanding Jury Nullification” that presented it in a largely positive light. Executive Editor Rick Broussard told Hatewatch that the magazine – which mostly features lifestyle-oriented fare – included the piece because nullification had become part of an ongoing legal debate in the state.

Far-right activists also remain prominent promoters of the concept, which continues to percolate in anti-tax and antigovernment circles. The efforts to promote the idea were applauded by the Washington Times in an article last year, as well as in a John Birch Society magazine article. Most recently, a paleoconservative Republican from Alaksa sponsored legislation in the state assembly that would explicitly permit jury nullification, raising concerns in the law enforcement community.

So, what is “jury nullification” all about? ( continue to full post… )

Idaho Lawmakers Want to ‘Nullify’ EPA So Dredge Mining Operations Can ‘Get Back to Enjoying’ State

Posted in Antigovernment, Nullification by David Neiwert on March 19, 2014 - 9:59 am

Right-wing proponents of “nullification” – the idea that individual states can free themselves from the purview of federal laws by virtue of simply declaring themselves so – have largely focused on convincing state

Idaho State Rep. Paul Shepherd

Idaho State Rep. Paul Shepherd

legislatures to pass bills “nullifying” federal gun laws, as in Missouri. Others have urged applying such statutes to the fight over same-sex marriage.

Lawmakers in Idaho this week, though, expanded the field by applying “nullification” to federal environmental laws.

The state’s House Resources Committee on Thursday approved HB 473, a bill declaring that “the regulation authority of the United States environmental protection agency is not authorized by the Constitution of the United States and violates its true meaning and intent … and is hereby declared to be invalid in the state of Idaho.” The bill will next go to the floor of the House for a vote. (UPDATE: The bill stalled on the floor of the House and was sent back to the Resources Committee. This will likely kill the legislation for this year’s session.)

Such nullification strategies are not particularly new; they have a long history on the extremist and racist right, with roots in the Posse Comitatus movement. Nonetheless, they have been gaining favor among conservative lawmakers in recent years, often in desperation to prevent the passage of progressive measures.

The author of the Idaho bill, Rep. Paul Shepherd, hails from Riggins, a town where the economy is largely based on the mining industry. Much of his advocacy has focused on preventing the EPA from enforcing regulations on small-scale dredge-mining operations that have become popular among prospectors and wildcat miners. Much of his support has come from miners.

“Let’s get the EPA out of Idaho and get back to enjoying the Gem State,” one of them told the lawmakers during testimony. ( continue to full post… )

Missouri Lawmakers Once Again Pushing Far-Right ‘Gun Nullification’ Scheme

Posted in Nullification by David Neiwert on February 13, 2014 - 1:11 pm

Missouri-SenateThe Missouri Senate is at it again.

On Tuesday, lawmakers passed legislation that would “nullify” all federal gun laws in the state and send federal agents to prison for enforcing them. Last year, a similar bill was passed by both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. A subsequent vote to override the veto failed by only a few votes in the Senate.

The bill’s chief Republican sponsor, Sen. Brian Nieves, says the law is intended to protect law-abiding gun owners from encroachments on their Second Amendment rights by federal regulations and officers. As written, federal agents would be subjected to civil and criminal penalties for knowingly enforcing federal gun laws in Missouri, with penalties including a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

“This is primarily purposed to protect liberties of Missourians,” said Nieves, of Washington.

The legislation also would allow concealed gun permit holders to carry their weapons openly, including in municipalities where such “open carry” practices are banned.

Even if the bill succeeds this year, it will certainly face a legal challenge in the federal courts, which have consistently ruled that states cannot overrule federal statutes, consistent with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Missouri “nullification” effort has its origins in similar schemes concocted in the 1990s by leaders of the militia and anti-government “Patriot” movements. Many of its core ideas harken back to far-right Posse Comitatus schemes regarding county power versus federal power.

Nonetheless, “nullification” strategies have been gaining some traction in conservative circles in recent years, thanks in no small part to right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck who claim they are legitimate political theories with “constitutional” grounding.