This article was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Southern Goofs

The Constitution provides that acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land” which is why states do not have the power to ignore federal law. Nevertheless, five Georgia state senators — including Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R) and senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R) — apparently do not believe that the Constitution applies to them. All five lawmakers introduced a wildly unconstitutional plan to have Georgia and its citizens simply ignore laws that its conservative leadership doesn’t want to follow:

Nineteenth Century nullificationist Senator John C. Calhoun

(1) There is created the Joint Commission on Recommendation, which shall be charged with recommending and proposing for a vote by a constitutional majority the nullification in its entirety of a specific federal law or regulation which is deemed to be outside the scope of the powers delegated by the people to the federal government in the United States Constitution or at odds with the Georgia Constitution . . .

(4) Upon recommendation for nullification, the General Assembly may vote to nullify following such recommendation. The appropriate documentation reflecting the vote shall be documented in legislative journals of the House and Senate. In the event the General Assembly votes by a constitutional majority to nullify any federal statute, mandate, or executive order on the grounds of constitutionality, neither the state nor its citizens shall recognize or be obligated to live under such statute, mandate, or executive order.

The unconstitutional idea that a state can nullify federal laws nearly sparked a civil war when it was invoked by southern slave owners in the 1830s, and it was a backbone of the segregated south’s efforts to maintain Jim Crow. Beyond a few flare ups, however, is has nearly always existed on the margins of American constitutional radicalism. As James Madison warned, nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself” by allowing federal laws to be freely ignored by states.

Nevertheless, it has experienced a bit of a renaissance after a pseudo-historian named Tom Woods published a book on the subject that is popular among certain segments of the Tea Party. Woods also published an article claiming that “[t]he real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today, was the defeat of the Confederate States of America in 1865.”

Sadly, Sens. Rogers and Williams are far from the only elected officials who do not recognize that the proto-Confederate idea of nullification cannot be squared with the Constitution. Texas recently passed an unconstitutional law nullifying a federal law regulating light bulbs and numerous states have passed equally unconstitutional nullificationist attacks on the Affordable Care Act.

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the Guardian, the American Prospect and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox Business and many radio shows.