A line was drawn in the sand last week - a response by the Federal Government to the State of Tennessee and their assertion of sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution...Let me start this off with two caveats. The first is that ATF is absolutely incorrect in its interpretation of the Constitution. Whether one wants to approach it from the angle of the Second Amendment, which specifically circumscribes the federal government's power in relation to firearms, or from the angle of the Interstate Commerce Clause, which similarly negates the power of the Feds to interfere with commerce WITHIN a state, Congress and its bureaucratic creations like the ATF have absolutely no lawful authority to regulate production or distribution of firearms or anything else that does not cross state lines. The second, however, is that that doesn't matter a bit: the Feds will do what they wish unless their captive courts say differently, which they won't.
The Federal Government, by way of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms expressed its own view of the Tenth Amendment this week when it issued an open letter to ‘all Tennessee Federal Firearms Licensees’ in which it denounced the opinion of ... the Tennessee legislature. ATF assistant director Carson W. Carroll wrote that ‘Federal law supersedes the Act’, and thus the ATF considers it meaningless.
Not that "nullification" of Federal Law is a new idea, mind you. As early as 1828, South Carolina, which would later lead the nation into Civil War using it as a pretext, was arguing that states could negate federal laws that they considered unconstitutional*. But the fact remains that in the minds of the Feds federal law always supersedes that of mere states***. States, under our modern system, are mere administrative districts of the Federal government and must do what it says.
But the problem is going to rise again. And again. Whether it's the O-Force's stimulus boondoggle or its coming health-care disaster, or whether it's the toilet bowl ring left by Bush's ludicrous No Child Left Behind which is built on the same faulty premise, the states are going to find that the Feds constantly overstep their legitimate authority and force the states to go along. And the states go along, mostly quietly, because none of them can live without the Feds' underwriting of their own budgets.
The Feds are not going to back down; they have too much monetary power and institutional arrogance to do so. The states have only the choice of actual - they must consciously take themselves back to 1828 and play history forward from there - not symbolic resistance, which they are presently unwilling to undertake.
I'm of the firm belief that once we stopped adding states to the Union - and we have - the next step will be to lose them. But it will not be a pretty nor painless process. The states can squawk all they want about their "autonomy," but to get it, they must take it from the Feds by force. And when they try, really try, all hell is going to break loose.
A people, however defined, has the right to secede, as Jefferson said, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [their government], and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." But history dictates that the price of secession is the blood of the people; it always has been and probably always will be.
Just something to consider when the libertarians, Rick Perry, the AIP, and the Second Vermont Republic get too excited about the idea.
* in all fairness, SC was fine with nullification so long as it related to the tariff. But when it came to the Fugitive Slave Act**, they were the first in line to pillory various northern states who refused to abide by federal law in that respect.
** Which is why I find myself in such a hard place when it comes to interpreting the Civil War. As one who believes that the South had every right to secede - in that sense it truly was a "War of Northern Aggression" - and that abolitionists had a moral right and even duty to forcibly free slaves - in that case I cannot condemn Jennison and Anthony for "stealing Negroes" at gunpoint - I find myself in nearly the exact opposite camp of all of those who went to war, the south to preserve slavery and the north to preserve union. I guess me and Lysander Spooner make a majority.
*** That's what makes Sarah Palin's signing of a "sovereignty" resolution resolution this week so laughable. Unless a state is willing to refuse to enforce Federal laws, rather than just passing resolutions complaining about them, it is simply spitting into the wind.