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Over the next few years, I think we will begin to hear the word “nullification” more and more. So let’s look at what it means, and why it isn’t a good strategy to limit the continuous expansion of the federal government.

Some politicians and citizens have been arguing that states could use the Tenth Amendment to “nullify” any federal law that exceeds the powers delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. This might work in some cases, where a state refuses to accept federal funds and thereby avoids the federal regulations that are always attached to those funds. But nullification cannot begin to curb all sorts of other abuses of federal power.

Michael Farris was on my radio program recently and provides constitutional and practical reasons why nullification cannot do as much as many proponents claim. The Tenth Amendment states that the enumerated powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people. That doesn’t imply that states have the authority to independently determine when the federal government has acted outside the scope of its authority.

If you believe that the states and the people have the right to nullify a federal law, you won’t have a republic. If people could nullify any federal law, then we would soon have anarchy. We cannot give citizens in this country the right to nullify any law they believe is unconstitutional.

But we really can’t give such an unlimited power of nullification to the states either. Soon we would have a patchwork quilt of laws in the country and no cohesive set of laws that applied to the country as a whole. Right now, you might want to nullify a federal law like Obamacare or a federal regulation from the EPA or a Supreme Court ruling on abortion. Michael Farris says that once a state does that, another state might want to nullify the recent Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case. Nullification works both ways.

I hope you can see that the issue is more complex than the bumper stickers calling for nullification might suggest.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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