As the Republicans in the Tennessee legislature continued their refresher course in failed political theories of the 19th century, it was only a matter of time before they got around to trying nullification.
Sen. Mae Beavers played the part of John C. Calhoun, sponsoring a bill that would make it a felony for federal agents to enforce federal gun law in Tennessee.
In support of the idea that Tennessee could negate federal laws it deems unconstitutional, Beavers brought in an expert on this arcane legal theory. Identifying this expert is impossible, as she refused to give her real name, instead using her “nom de guerre” (her words) of Publius-Huldah. “Publius” was the pseudonym of the authors of The Federalist Papers, itself a reference to Roman consul Publius Valerius Publicola, who was instrumental in setting up the Roman Republic. Huldah was a prophetess who told the people of Jerusalem that God would bring evil upon them for not following the law.
In any case, Publius-Huldah’s nullification theory is based on a reading of the 10th Amendment, which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Publius-Huldah argues that because nullification isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, then it follows, in fact, that it is one of these powers the states have.
Unfortunately for her, dozens of legal precedents disagree with this reading, though that probably doesn’t concern her, or Beavers, as the senator recently declared the Supreme Court a dictatorship built on a series of legal opinions stretching back to the original sin of Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review. This is the American equivalent to the clutch of traditionalist Catholics who argue there hasn’t been a legitimate pope since the Second Vatican Council because, in their view, Vatican II was illegitimate.
Let’s all accept for a moment that this theory actually holds water. It would logically extend that some of these powers of nullification extend beyond the scope of the states and to the hands of the people, right? In that case, what’s to stop a half-dozen people getting together to nullify the nullification? And then another four or five to get together and nullify the nullification of the nullification?
Pretty soon it’s pure chaos, with urban chickens allowed in some council districts but not in others. What lunacy!
It’s surprising, with the fetishism of the individual of the Republican Party, that this a la carte approach to law hasn’t caught on as the GOP continues its gross mutation of conservatism from a philosophy trumpeting stable society into one that instead delights in individual triumph at society’s expense and to its eventual demise.
Fortunately, the nullification bill withered in committee, death by deadlock, killed in a 4-4 vote as Beavers and her witnesses were treated with barely contained disdain by Judiciary Committee chairman (and attorney) Brian Kelsey, who capped off the hearing by saying to Publius-Huldah, “You’re very interesting,” much as one would comment upon seeing a man wearing a three-piece suit made entirely of Kraft Singles wrappers.
Having waded through secession and nullification, with bated breath a state wonders which 150-year-old misadventure the GOP will take us on next.