The Constitution of the United States of America is truly the greatest political document ever produced in the history of mankind. Never before has such a nation come about, not through the force of demagogues, conquests, and slaughters, but through reason and a respect for the rights of all people. It is because of this fact that the disrespect of the Constitution is a tragedy greater than Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Arthur Miller combined could produce.
Constitutional questions have occurred at many times throughout the history of the United States. Whether these issues were the Alien and Sedition Acts, Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the tariffs passed by Congress preceding the Civil War, the multiple implementations of conscription, or the whole other slew of issues brought on by Progressives, un-Constitutional actions have been sadly common. But the current actions of the Federal government, allow the government an even greater opportunity to attempt to destroy rights—whether they are individuals, the states, or of local governments. The two greatest actions the Federal government has taken lately are the health care law and the NDAA Bill.
If one is a supporter of liberty, then one will be wondering what may be done at the present time—after a hundred years of disrespect and abuse. In response to this there are two solutions, philosophical and legal. But, before the philosophical is addressed, a bit of history is in order.
The whole idea of our Constitution can be traced back to a single thinker, John Locke. Although many thinkers would influence the Founders, none of them had such an impact as Locke. The sheer idea of a Constitution is a result of Locke. In his view, government is a social contract between the people and government, and, in the case of the United States, this is the Constitution. And, perhaps more importantly, all humans have “natural rights.” These rights may be explained and summarized very simply. These rights exist naturally—given by God—and cannot be taken away by any entity—whether government, fellow man, or an organization. And, according to Locke, these natural rights are to life, property, and liberty (i.e. living one’s life, as long as one’s actions do not cause harm to another). Natural rights were the justification for the American Revolution (i.e. the King has infringed upon these natural rights and broken the contract, making his government no longer legitimate). In relation to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights provides specific mention of natural rights, so that they may be set in legal stone.
Unfortunately, the barriers the Founders set against government infringement have not prevented penetrations of these barriers. Especially in the in which we live in, the lover of liberty must be prepared to face these un-Constitutional laws. As noted, there are two aspects of this that must be addressed—the philosophical aspect and the legal aspect.
Philosophically, if a law is against the Constitution, then it is in direct contrast with the foundation of our nation and legal system. (As noted in Article Six, the Constitution is the “Supreme Law of the Land.”) Thus, the un-Constitutional law is automatically, philosophically speaking, trumped by the Constitution—in the same way that St. Augustine quipped “An unjust law is no law at all.” An example of this philosophy may be seen in Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s refusal to fill out sections of the census not proscribed by the Constitution. It is absolutely imperative to note that the individual may not just declare any law he does not like to un-Constitutional and disobey it. Rather, this must be a product of careful learning (both of the Founders and of their influences), thinking on these ideas, and deciding what is in line with them. Though, philosophically is different than legally.
Legally, the Federal government will not view the ignoring of un-Constitutional laws as a devotion to our founding document, but as a blatant disobeying of their authority. Again, I am not advocating that one go about dealing with un-Constitutional laws in a blatant, obnoxious, or provoking way. Dealing with un-Constitutional measures is, likely, best dealt with by attempting to repeal or eliminate those measures which violate the Constitution. If all else fails, there is a final option, to be used as a last resort. This option is nullification.
While I do not advocate using nullification before trying other methods, it may be used as a last line of defense. Nullification, in short, is a theory that local governments or states have the power to “nullify” Federal laws found to be un-Constitutional. (Interposition, the theory that states may declare Federal laws un-Constitutional, is also similar to nullification.) It is in this area that I urge the greatest caution in using or encouraging this, and asserting that nullification/interposition is the last resort. Neither of these actions are not meant to be used to benefit those who merely do not like a Federal law, but to protect and defend the Constitution. Accordingly, it is imperative that the Constitution and the thinkers influencing it (John Locke being the most prominent) be understood. Just as the America Revolution was not a rebellion, so much as it was an assertion of natural rights, so are nullification and interposition not a rebellion but an assertion of the Constitution and the natural rights written into it.