A Surprisingly Well Done Nullification Op-Ed in Florida

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When one of the remaining deans of Florida newspaper reporters writes an opinion piece about the Tenth Amendment that isn’t historically false, insulting and agenda driven, we take notice.

In his Tallahassee.com op-ed It’s time to start talking about the 10th Amendment, the highly acclaimed retired Tallahassee Democrat reporter Bill Cotterell writes, “Recently, though — and not just since Obama’s election — we’ve seen increased instances of states wanting to reject federal mandates. Surprisingly, and inconsistently, the Obama administration has gone along with some of them.

“The legal basis for this resistance is the 10th Amendment, which states, ‘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…’ Nobody really knows what that means. James Madison, who proposed it, thought the idea was so obvious that Ye Olde Bill O’ Rights didn’t need to spell it out, but some state legislatures were reluctant to ratify without a guarantee of their own powers.”

Of course, at the Tenth Amendment Center we know exactly what that means. Still,this is an excellent and open minded opinion, and a welcome change from the diatribe and mythology that has emanated from the likes of the Heritage Foundation, CATO and just today, Reason.com.

A recent Reason piece on nullification, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes, “What they can’t do is pretend to be exempt from the national government. This point is not in dispute even among experts who see Washington as far too powerful. Cato Institute Chairman Robert Levy, who led the lawsuit that yielded the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision establishing an individual right to own guns, writes that “states cannot impede federal enforcement of a federal law merely because the state deems it unconstitutional.”

Chapman and Reason tell this tall tale undaunted by the absence historical corroboration, or as Tenth Amendment Center’s National Communication Director Michael Maharrey says, “Their argument rests on some modern day lawyers and the fact that nullification  ‘unsavory’ associations with racism.”

Cotterell writes nothing of the sort in his piece. Sure, he echoes the meritless Don Gaetz one liner, “This state-federal supremacy thing was pretty much settled at Appomattox;” but he also points out rightly that States willingly relinquished powers to the central government during the Great Depression. He does this without any pseudo history lesson or condescension. As so many do when writing on nullification, Cotterell points out it was employed by Southern states to maintain segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. As is generally the case, he mentions this fact without mentioning how nullification was used to defeat the federal Fugitive Slave Acts, and had Mr. Cotterell made this reference as well, the article would have been better rounded. Regardless, it is a pleasant surprise to see someone of Cotterell’s stature take note of the federal capitulation in the marijuana battle, and that the States are beginning to push back. Cotterell presents a piece with background from the past and a look towards the future in a way that doesn’t take sides or lay claim to any expertise.

Acknowledging that “Obama supporters tend to shrug off the current resistance as a backlash against having a black president, a handy excuse Democrats use for any criticism,” he ends by writing, “But after 225 years or so, maybe it would be good to have this discussion.”

We couldn’t agree more sir. We have been have been promoting this discussion since June 25, 2006. It’s great to see you think it’s about time too.

For more on nullification click HERE.

Andrew Nappi is the State Coordinator for the Florida Tenth Amendment Center. He lives in the Tampa Bay Area with wife Tammy and dogs Emma and Bud Lite.

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