Right-wing advocates of “nullification” say it is a principle by which state and county officials can simply ignore federal laws and court rulings they consider unconstitutional. A Utah man who believes a federal judge acted unconstitutionally in ordering officials to permit same-sex marriage in the state has been fasting since December 21, he says, and will keep doing so until state officials refuse to obey the federal judge. He invokes the founding fathers in his call for nullification.
In an interview posted today on the Cultural Hall website, Meacham said it is “completely pointless” for state officials to go through the courts because they are “packed full of activist judges that don’t listen to the constitution.” He has urged state officials and county clerks to defy the order. He told an interviewer he is emulating Gandhi, and said he is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause.
Trestin Meacham is a libertarian-leaning Navy veteran who ran for the state senate in 2012 as a candidate for the far-right Constitution Party, which promotes biblical law. His online bio from Project Vote Smart doesn’t have much more information other than that he is a small business owner and Mormon, while his personal Facebook page describes his politics as “Anti-Marxist Secessionist.” (It lists joking pop culture references for his work and education.)
As a candidate he was described as a conservative blogger, though some of his blogs appear to be defunct. In his writings and postings he has demonstrated a commitment to the Tea Party’s notion that much of what the federal government does violates the Tenth Amendment. As a candidate, he argued:
For over a hundred years we have been drifting further and further from the government designed by our founders, to something more closely resembling the writings of Karl Marx …
It is the duty of the State Legislatures to stand up to the federal government and take back our God-given right of self-government laid out in the Constitution. Washington is not going to reform itself. Even if we had Ronald Reagan as President, with control of both houses of Congress, it would still be heading down the wrong path. Washington is too corrupt; it will not relinquish its unconstitutional power. Reform can only come from an outside source, that source is the states.
As a State Senator, I will oppose any further unconstitutional power grabs from Washington. I will also sponsor and support legislation, which takes back the states rightful power from our corrupt federal government.
Meacham claims federal courts decisions on gay marriage will lead to tyranny, ultimately forcing churches and LDS to officiate same-sex weddings:
I think an attack on freedom, an attack on the Constitution, affects everybody. If a fed judge can throw out the Constitution and the will of the people then we’re really little better off than a Soviet satellite nation. Our freedom means nothing. They can do anything if they can do this.
In a 2011 comment on a story on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, he wrote, “Our schools have always been places for socialist indoctrinations. The public school system is the tenth plank of the Communist Manifesto.” An old YouTube channel apparently created while he was serving in Korea includes birther material.
Meacham has linked to right-wing sources online promoting nullification. In today’s interview he also appealed to the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, quoting Joseph Smith saying that saints should not follow any law that violates the Constitution.
The blog Meacham created to promote his fast appears to be built on the same platform as a fictional country, Kherutistan, that Meacham seems to be constructing online, complete with its own Declaration of Independence and flag. Kherutistan is a libertarian paradise, a “heroarchy” led by people of good character where the basic ground rule of living is for people to be excellent to one another.
Gun Owners of America director Larry Pratt is a big fan of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group of Tenther county sheriffs who have declared that they answer directly to the Constitution (or their interpretation of it), rather than to the federal government. Unsurprisingly, the organization and the movement it represents have grown substantially during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Pratt often praises the Constitutional Sheriffs in his speeches, and was a guest of honor at their annual convention last week, where he presented the “High Noon Award” to the Milwaukee County Sheriff who took out an ad urging people to arm themselves rather than calling 911. Pratt also presented the “Nullifier of the Year” award to Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Kentucky, who has announced that he will not enforce federal gun laws in his county, warning that there would be a “bloodbath in our community when they come in to take guns.”
Pratt himself summed up the gist of the Constitutional Sheriffs movement when he told WND:
There is a misconception in our time that the court somehow is the arbiter of what is constitutional; that’s not true! Every official that raises their right hand and says they’re going to adhere to the constitution, seek to protect it to the best of their ability, ‘so help me God’ – that’s something that they’re all obligated to do.
The nullification movement is growing in popularity in conservative state legislatures – for instance, Kansas has passed a law declaring that "Any act, law, treaty, order, rule or regulation of the government of the United States which violates the second amendment to the constitution of the United States is null, void and unenforceable in the state of Kansas."
The nullification concept dates back to South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun, who argued that if the federal government did not allow a southern states to “nullify” an 1828 tariff act, they would be within their rights to secede from the Union. Historian Cody Carlson explains, “The unspoken fear, of course, was that if the federal government could levy a tariff to profoundly alter the economy of the South, was the institution of slavery safe from federal interference? Could not the North, in the guise of instituting new economic policies, virtually prohibit slavery?”
David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center, via Steve Benen, explains why nullification has long been discredited:
Nullification was a 19th century theory, identified most closely with South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, based on the notion that the states created the Constitution and retained the power to determine whether the federal government complied with limitations on its power. This theory has been universally rejected throughout the course of American history by the courts as inconsistent with the Constitution. As the Constitution's preamble makes clear, 'We the People,' not the states, 'ordain[ed] and establish[ed] th[e] Constitution.'
The Constitution's Supremacy Clause provides that federal law is the 'supreme Law of the Land,' and Article III of the Constitution gives to the federal judiciary the power to decide "all cases arising under the Constitution.' States, thus, cannot simply declare that the acts of the federal government are null and void. But, despite the rock-solid arguments against nullification, state governments continue to press the idea that they have the power to treat certain federal laws as null and void. These arguments, while not new, have no basis in the Constitution."