Alabama State Senate Embraces Crackpot, Antebellum Legal Theory

Nullification was discredited more than 100 years ago, but all that’s old is new again.

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Replica Decleration of Independence, focus is on the word tip of ink feather pen.

I don't have a lot to add to Steve Benen's report that Alabama's state senate Tuesday passed legislation that would nullify federal gun control laws. Steve uncharacteristically understates: "Measures like these continue to make me uncomfortable, largely because they're premised on a discredited legal theory decided by the Civil War."

 I'd put it more bluntly: Does the Alabama Senate know what year it is? Have any of the senators who voted in favor of the measure read the Constitution beyond their sacred Second Amendment? Has any of them read any history (and yes, even the "lost cause" histori-propaganda will do, seeing as how it has "lost" in the title)?

Hell, I'm not sure the principle sponsor of the bill, GOP state Sen. Paul Sanford, has even read it. The AP reports, "In the Senate, Sanford said he was not trying to declare all federal gun laws void." That's kind of funny since his bill states, "All federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations regarding firearms are a violation of the Second Amendment" and goes on to say they are thusly all "null and void."

That would, by the way, not only eliminate any new gun laws but would also delete existing background checks and the ban on civilian ownership of machine guns. Emphasis on would: With only a handful of days left on the legislative calendar the unfortunate piece of legislation is highly unlikely to pass.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

As an aside, the AP story is a perfect example of what's wrong with contemporary neutral-at-all-costs reporting: It quotes a couple of state legislators doubting the validity of the law – "Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Montgomery voted for the bill, but he said states trying to nullify federal laws have been losing ever since the 1830s when South Carolina tried it with a federal tariff in President Andrew Jackson's administration" – but never states it as the plain fact that it is.

Brewbaker is right but the fact that nullification is a doctrine that's been discredited for more than 100 years doesn't need to be sourced to someone; it's a fact. It was an argument which ended in the early- to mid-1860s (speaking of ideas that are making unfortunate comebacks). Under our Constitution, states don't have the right to nullify federal laws or declare them to be constitutional or unconstitutional. That power resides with the (federal) U.S. Supreme Court.

But in the era of tea party wackiness, all that is old is new again. As Benen notes, Missouri, Kansas and North Carolina are also hoisting the nullification banner. Montana's legislature passed a similar piece of legislation in March which the governor vetoed.

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