Monday, July 12, 2010

Constitutional Context

To understand a document like the Constitution, one needs to read the document in its context. Nullified, by Thomas E. Woods is a well researched document showing that the Constitution of the United States was created with a vision of strong States and a limited National Government.

The Constitution gave enumerated powers to provide national defense and to help simplify interstate commerce, etc..

The debates surrounding ratification of the Constitutions show quite clearly that the framers of Constitution were creating a multi-dimensional system of governance with strong state governments and a limited Federal government.

Today, we find ourselves facing the exact opposite of what the Founders intended with an unbounded Federal government with a history of failing at its primary charges while mandating state laws.

So, although the founders intended to create a distributed form of governance, they failed to create a mechanism to preserve a distributed form of governance.

Thomas Jefferson thought that the way to preserve the balance of state and federal power was through the process of nullification. The central idea behind nullification is that an unconstitutional law (such as No Child Left Behind) is not really a law and can be rightfully ignored by the states.

Mr. Woods book is a great read that presents the context of the Constitution and supports the concept of nullification.

Whether or not we should revive the principle of nullification is a different debate. During the progressive era, we have so thoroughly trounced on our Constitution that the majority of Federal activities fall outside the enumerated powers of the Constitution.

My primary worry about nullification is that states will only challenge those laws with which they disagree. As different states disagree with different laws, reviving the process of nullification is likely to result in increased hostilities between the states and will not restore Constitutional balance.

To restore the balance between states and federal government would require a more formal mechanism of dispute than the game of simply not enforcing laws.

Regardless of one's feelings on nullification, Mr. Woods' recent book is a great read in that it provides insight into the context of our Founders thoughts on the balance of powers (buy at


shorter university said...

This is a good article about the book. I like the concept of Constitution and the power of the States. I think it will be beneficial if the Constitution focuses more on the welfare of the people in addition national defense and interstate commerce. I guess the process of nullification will face a lot of challenge as it opposes lot of laws stated in the Constitution.

y-intercept said...

1) Nullification does not oppose any laws stated in the Constitution. It can only be used against Unconstitutional laws. The idea is that if a law falls outside the powers enumerated by the Constitution, then it is null and void.

I don't think this idea could work in a world where the ruling class routinely changes the meaning of terms for expedient political causes.

2) The Constitution doesn't change its focus without an amendment. (Unless you hold with the idea of a ruling class changing the meaning of terms for political expediency).

I actually think it foolish for people to make their welfare dependent on benevolence of the state. The early US immigrants came from a world where people's welfare depended on kings and feudal lords. There was a great deal of suffering as a result.

Personally, I don't think nullification can work in today's political climate. To restore local control would involve a more formal mechanism.