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Why Nullification Matters

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In the first post in this series, I discussed the push for secession and nullification now being made by Catholic Right Neo-Confederates, notably Thomas J. Woods, Jr. Now, almost a century and a half after that approach was soundly defeated, some Catholic social conservatives are resorting to these pernicious ideas, apparently in order to prevail on such issues such as reproductive rights and gun control.

While the battles of the culture wars rage, it is far from clear to the Catholic Right that they can prevail across the board. While abortion rights are under attack in many of the “red” states, Roe vs. Wade still stands, marriage equality is becoming increasingly accepted, and the neo-conservatism that epitomized the Bush era, is on the ropes. What’s more, Pope Francis, clearly has no use for their brand of laissez-faire brand of economics of the likes of George Weigel and Robert P. George. Thus the Catholic Right appears to be in a state of orderly, tactical retreat; regrouping and waiting to strike on the ground of their own choosing. And when they do their weapons of choice may be secession and nullification.

At the forefront of this reorganization is Thomas Woods. His writings and speeches are constantly cited by a budding alliance of Catholic social conservatives and secessionist apologists. While pundits periodically write off the Religious Right, this trend has been evident for some time. I noted here and here in 2010 that Catholic GOP operative Deal Hudson has trying to get such a movement going for some time. Even Robert P. George has been endearing himself to Tea Party folks by embracing the gleaming libertarian notion of goldbuggery.

The Tenth Amendment Center

Many of the shorter works of Thomas Woods can be found at or linked to from the web site for the Tenth Amendment Center, (TAC) an organization that describes itself as “… a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism… [and] … as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported on the group and its leaders:

For the past several years, [executive director Michael] Boldin has crisscrossed the country, taking the TAC’s nullification message to supporters known as “Tenthers.” Its “Nullify Now!” conferences have been held in cities including Austin, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., and Manchester, N.H.

As well as:

Thomas E. Woods, a former member of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South and the author of Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century, is another constant on the “Nullify Now!” tour.

Importantly, SPLC further noted:

The TAC’s partner in this endeavor is the Foundation for a Free Society, which espouses the libertarian free-market theories of Murray Rothbard and the Austrian School of Economics. Foundation leader Jason Rink has described the federal government as the primary threat to liberty.

The Foundation for a Free Society’s web site features exhortations for nullification — including a film “Nullification: The Rightful Remedy.” The stars of the film include Boldin, Woods and Rink, as well as Art Thompson, the Executive Director of the John Birch Society.

TAC serves as vehicle for dissemination of the nullification and secession message to the Religious – specifically, Catholic – Right. TAC’s founder and executive director, Michael Boldin, writes a regular column for Renew America‘s the web site; an organization was originally created to support for Conservative Catholic Alan Keyes’ short-lived cable news show now dedicated to advocating for limited government but with strong theocratic overtones. Other Catholic Right contributors at Renew America, in addition to Keyes himself, are Matt C. Abbott (discussed in an earlier post) and Marielena Montesino de Stuart — who is no fan of Vatican II nor of Catholic notions of Social Justice.

Nullification

Part of TAC’s strategy is to provide model legislation. Recently Governor and
(Opus Dei convert) Sam Brownback (R-KS) signed into law legislation designed to nullify any federal gun control regulations concerning any weapons manufactured in Kansas for use in Kansas. The bill was taken from the TAC model bill template. A GOP-controlled Missouri legislature recently sent an almost identical piece of legislation to its Democratic governor.

TAC provides other model nullification laws that cover an array of libertarian causes from voiding Obamacare, to withholding National Guard units, to allowing banks in individual states to begin offering and accepting gold and silver as legal tender.

But as a nation, we have been down this road before, and know from bitter experience that nullification – and by extension, its not-so-distant-kinfolk, secession, can destroy any semblance of the United States as a governable nation. When individual states believe they can ignore a gun law or a health care law they can ignore any law, including those that guarantee religious freedom via the prohibition of the establishment of a state religion. This was indeed the case recently in North Carolina where a group of Republican legislators introduced a bill that would allow an official state religion, essentially declaring the Tar-Heel state exempt from the Constitution and court rulings on Church-State separation.

And therein lies the hypocrisy of nullification. The theory relies upon the false premise that only the federal government is capable of tyranny; it blindly ignores that individual states can be tyrannical. As the history of Jim Crow demonstrates, that is more than a mere valid concern; it is a reality. Doctors involved with reproductive rights and embryonic stem cell research would be the potentially oppressed, as would be their patients. Nullification could well serve as the mid-wife to local theocracy.

And this point of departure will lead into the next post: The historical argument against nullification and secession.

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