Nullification. The word evokes images of white-haired men with tri-fold hats, holding up signs about the “evils” of Obamacare and socialism.
States around the country are considering laws to reject federal laws on health care, guns, Environmental Protection Agency regulations and more. The pundits scream “racism,” the legal experts cite the “supremacy clause,” and the entire country – left to right – just might be missing the point.
As executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, the organization which created the “Health Care Nullification Act” introduced in more than 10 states, I see many people who fit this stereotypical “tenther” image, too.
Whenever I speak at “Nullify Now!” events around the country, the crowd is predominantly these folks. While a few progressives occasionally join the protesters, one doesn’t find too many 20-somethings with Che T-shirts attending such events.
While the rhetoric coming from many on the right these days includes words like “nullification,” and “state sovereignty,” it has been the left, not the right, which has been successful in putting these ideas into practice. And, California has been at the forefront since the beginning.
When Californians voted to approve Proposition 215 to allow medical marijuana, the word “nullification” was not part of the argument, but it most certainly was the result. Opponents often cited the Constitution’s “supremacy clause,” saying the state had no authority to violate federal marijuana laws. But, Californians voted to violate those laws by the millions. And, when the Supreme Court ruled in the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich case that state-level medical marijuana laws were, in essence, illegal, dispensaries around the state didn’t start closing shop.
In fact, by 2005, there were nine other states that had joined California in passing medical marijuana laws. After the supremes told the country that such laws were a big no-no, how many were repealed? Zero. And since then, another five states – most recently, Arizona – have joined up.
Think about that. There are now 15 states actively defying Congress and the Supreme Court – and they’re getting away with it. This, more than anything else, is what nullification is: any action which results in federal law(s) being rendered nearly unenforceable.
When I took a bike ride around my neighborhood in downtown L.A. the other day, I didn’t find a single Drug Enforcement Agent shutting down an arts district grow shop. A recent trip to Venice confirmed my hunch that there are plenty of businesses and individuals openly nullifying federal laws with dispensaries galore. A visit to the Bay Area last fall verified the same.
But yet, how often does one hear a legal scholar or a political pundit spending time and energy on how these pot-dealers and pot-smokers are bringing chaos to America?
How often do you hear that this active nullification of federal drug laws is done by people who hate President Obama for being black? I’ll assume you’ve that heard just about as much as I have – never.
Medical marijuana isn’t the only issue where Californians have taken a lead in standing up to the feds. In 2006, when the Congressional Research Service released a report on “sanctuary cities” around the country, California was at the head of the pack, with more major cities on the list than any other state in the country.
Oddly enough, I haven’t heard about Washington, D.C., threatening to withhold highway funds. The national guard hasn’t been sent in to force these cities to comply with federal immigration laws. But yet, that’s what some claim will happen if health care nullification laws are passed today.
I doubt it. If today’s nullification proposals follow in the path of the left’s nullification of federal drug and immigration laws, it’s quite possible we’ll see the same kind of results. The feds backing off.
The real question, of course, is this – will gay marriage advocates in Maine, health care nullification advocates in Idaho, gun rights activists in Oklahoma, and marijuana advocates in California ever realize that they’re actually on the same side?
They likely don’t agree on specific issues, but they agree with their actions; the most difficult and divisive issues need to be dealt with close to home, in their states. Either way, it’s good to be in California, where nullification is alive and well.
Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News on 02-15-11
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