A few days ago the Marco Island City Council, an assembly of the brightest constitutional scholars in the nation, decided to pass a resolution that would nullify any action that would, in effect, dilute the Second Amendment rights of its citizens to bear arms. Prior to that action, Lee County Sheriff, Mike Scott, had indicated that he would not enforce any law that would restrict gun rights as he believes it would be against the Second Amendment. There apparently are plans at an upcoming meeting of the Collier County Commissioners to vote on the same resolution as the one the Marco Island Council passed.
It seems that in the history of the United States nullification efforts have never been successful and have often led to dire consequences. One of the first acts of nullification, Shay’s Rebellion, occurred in 1786 and 1787 protesting taxes levied by the State of Massachusetts. Although this act of nullification was, in fact, against the State of Massachusetts rather than the federal government (the federal government had no standing army available to suppress it at the time), it resulted in the suppression of the rebellion by the state militia and the eventual execution of 18 individuals involved in the rebellion.
In 1832 the State of South Carolina declared that the tariffs imposed by the federal government in 1828 were unconstitutional and would not be enforced. Only a compromise on the tariff issue engineered by Henry Clay avoided federal troops being sent to South Carolina by President Andrew Jackson. The compromise, however, only had the effect of postponing the Civil War by three decades (effectively “kicking the can down the road”).
The issue that precipitated the Civil War was the ultimate attempt at nullification: secession. Over 600,000 lives were lost over this attempt to nullify federal authority. One would think that this would have settled the issue.
In the 1950’s Arkansas attempted to nullify federal desegregation law. The result was that President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to force the admission of black students into public schools, despite Governor Orville Faubus’ attempts to block their entry into the schools.
In the 1960’s we again saw federal troops being dispatched, this time to Alabama, to enforce federal desegregation laws.
In 2012 we witnessed Texas Governor Rick Perry, in his presidential campaign, bringing up the idea of Texas seceding again from the Union. Fortunately, no one took his idea (or his campaign) seriously, so no additional federal troops had to be sent to Texas (there are already a lot of them there).
The bottom line is that it has been pretty much settled that the federal courts are supposed to rule on the constitutionality of our laws, and not the elected state legislatures, sheriffs, city councils, county commissioners, etc., who all take an oath of office to uphold the law and not render their own interpretations as to the validity of each law. The consequences of doing otherwise appear to be pretty dire in the history of our nation. Hopefully, we will not experience federal troops marching down I-75 or over the Jolly Bridge in the near future in order to restore the rule of federal law.
Perhaps a more apt term for nullification is subversion?