Has Rachel Maddow become the new choir director for the Republican Party?

Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen a number of prominent Republicans marching along happily singing Maddow’s little tune about nullification. You know the one. It goes like this: Slaver John C. Calhoun created nullification to protect slavery and then there was a Civil War.

Jeff Sessions parroted this nonsense. So did Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). John Bolton picked up the tune. Some guy from the Heritage Foundation even joined the chorus. Now we can add Dick Morris to Maddow’s choir.

All of these Republicans are upset because California passed a law that bars cooperation with some aspects of federal immigration enforcement. In the minds of Maddow and her GOP choirboys, this is straight-up Calhounian nullification. And everybody knows nullification is racist and un-American. So, we must reject California’s “sanctuary state” policies! *queue guitar solo*

Dick Morris sang the Maddow tune this way.

“Not since Sen. John C. Calhoun induced the South Carolina legislature to disregard federal laws imposing tariffs on imports has the doctrine of state nullification reared its ugly head.”

I do have to give Dick a little bit of credit. At least he didn’t claim Calhoun was pushing nullification so that “South Carolina and other slave states would not enforce federal law regarding slavery.” That’s what Bolton said. Of course, Bolton’s comment is utter nonsense. Slavery was the law of the land. I’m not sure exactly what John thinks there was to nullify.

So, yes, Morris got the tariff part right. But claiming that the tariff crisis was the last time nullification “reared its ugly head,” is almost as absurd as Bolton’s tale about slavery.

Of course, Northern states used nullification tactics very similar to those being employed by California to block enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In other words, these states refused to help federal marshals and Southern slave catchers round up runaway slaves and send them back South into bondage.The last time I checked, 1850 was after 1832.

Also, this doesn’t seem very racist.

And it certainly isn’t ugly.

Granted, we can raise some questions worthy of discussion about California’s refusal to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. For more than 175 years, the Supreme Court has held that the federal government can’t force states to use their personnel and resources to enforce federal law, a legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine, Does California’s sanctuary policy cross the line into active interference with federal agents in some cases? Perhaps. It’s interesting to note some of the Personal Liberty Laws passed by Northern states to protect runaway slaves in the 1850s crossed that line as well.

Regardless, no matter how we answer that question, one thing remains certain: California’s sanctuary policies are not Calounian nullification. The state makes no claim about the constitutionality of federal immigration law. It simply says, “We don’t want to do this, and we’re not going to.” California’s policies have more in common with James Madison’s strategy to stop “unwarrantable” federal actions – or as the “Father of the Constitution” noted in Federalist #46 – even to stop “warrantable” actions that happen to be unpopular. Madison said states could create impediments and obstacles to federal action through “a refusal to cooperate with officers of the union.”

Is this nullification? in the broad sense of the word, it is. But it isn’t the Calhounian nullification Maddow and her merry band of Republicans keep talking about. John C.Calhoun came up with a very specific (and constitutionally dubious) nullification process. It has virtually nothing in common with any sanctuary policy, beyond the broad objective of hindering federal action.

Speaking of the constitutionality of federal immigration, Morris said there is no question about it.

“Nothing could be clearer in our federal constitution than the right of Congress to ‘establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization’ (Article 1; Section *(4)).”

OK. True.

And nothing could be clearer than the fact naturalization is not the same as immigration.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines naturalization as, “The act of adopting an alien into a nation, and clothing him with all the rights possessed by a natural- born citizen.”

Yes, the federal government has full control over the naturalization process. But the Constitution does not delegate any power relating to immigration or the disposition of aliens within a state to the federal government. Under the Tenth Amendment, that means it was left to the states to determine.

In fact, that was the position James Madison took during the first immigration debate. The Alien Friends Act purported to give the federal government the authority to deport non-citizen foreigners it considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” Madison said this act “exercises a power no where delegated to the federal government.”

You could argue the power to regulate commerce and the treaty power confer some authority over immigration to the general government, but naturalization certainly doesn’t. They are two totally different things. And the whole issue certainly isn’t as cut and dry as Morris makes it sound.

There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy debate about America’s immigration policy. But that’s nearly impossible when people keep clouding the issues with bad history, character assassination and outright lies.

Sadly though, this is part and parcel of the Maddow crowd – tar anybody who disagrees with your position as an ignorant moron who’s probably also a racist. Too bad they remain oblivious to their own idiocy and ignorance.

Dick Morris image originally posted to Flickr by markn3tel and used here under a CreativeCommons 2.0 license.