HAWAII, February 6, 2012―What if the road to changing Washington began not with Congress or the White House, but right in your state legislature and city council?
Over the last few years, interest in local governance and states rights has emerged out of increasing frustration with national leadership. Supporters of the Tenth Amendment say the Constitution has given the federal government limited power and states are duty bound to stand up when Washington steps over the line.
I had the opportunity to interview one of America’s leading advocates for states rights, founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), Michael Boldin. In 2006, Boldin founded TAC out of a deep love for our nation’s Founding Fathers and constitutional tradition of limited government.
Today, policymakers and concerned citizens all across America are turning to the TAC for advice on how to restore America.
I was extremely impressed by Boldin’s hard-charging, lead from the front approach to effecting change in America. What follows is a transcript, with light edits for length and clarity.
Danny de Gracia (DDG): One of the terms that has entered the public’s ears these days is “states rights” followed immediately by “Tenth Amendment.” It’s definitely stirred a lot of curiosity and controversy alike throughout the political spectrum. How would you describe what states’ rights are to someone who has never heard of it before?
Michael Boldin: The Tenth Amendment is best thought of as an exclamation point on the Constitution. In legalese, the Tenth is known as a rule of construction, explaining how we’re supposed to read the rest of the document.
What does it say in simple, modern terms? Pretty much this: The federal government is authorized to do a limited amount of stuff. That stuff is found in the Constitution. Everything else, and I mean everything else, is left to the people of each state to determine how they want to handle it.
The government people in Washington DC hold the view that they can regulate and virtually control everything and anything that moves. Under the Founders’ Constitutional [view] - instead of the twisted version that these politicians and judges alike have foisted upon us for decades - such view is not just wrong.
It’s absurd - and dangerous. No person and no institution can be trusted with that kind of power.
DDG: Tell us a little bit about yourself and the Tenth Amendment Center. What got you started in advocating the Tenth Amendment and what led to you founding the organization?
Boldin: The best way for me to describe the Tenth Amendment Center and our work since we were founded in mid-2006 is through two great quotes from leading Founders, who were often at odds with one another.
Thomas Jefferson: “The several states comprising the United States of America are not united on a principle of unlimited submission to their general government.”
John Adams: “I would quarrel with both parties and with every individual of each, before I would subjugate my understanding, or prostitute my tongue or pen to either.”
Fact of the matter is this: like every political organization, the TAC has an agenda. Ours though is pretty straightforward - The Constitution. Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses.
DDG: It’s been suggested by some that rather than waiting for Congress to repeal “Obamacare” and other recent mandates that didn’t sit well with the states, local legislatures could use something called “nullification” to refuse to enforce it within their state borders. What exactly is nullification? Has it ever been used before?
Boldin: I’m glad you asked that as nullification which came right from prominent Founders is seeing a massive resurgence all over the country in recent years.
In fact, there’s so much nullification activity in state legislatures these days that we’re premiering a feature-length documentary film on the subject at CPAC this year. Nullification: The Rightful Remedy is showing at 5:30PM on Thursday, February 9th in the Citizens United CPAC Theater.
Nullification begins with the simple point that a federal “law” that violates the Constitution is no law at all. It’s a usurpation of power.
Both Jefferson and Madison gave us an important warning about power. If the federal government ever became the sole and exclusive arbiter of the extent of their own powers - that power would always grow, regardless of elections, or protests, or lawsuits, or “voting the bums out.”
For countless decades these two men have been proven right. Year in and year out, federal power grows and your liberty diminishes. And it doesn’t matter which political party is in power, or what individual occupies the White House.
But really, the very best way to explain nullification is to explain what it is not.
Nullification is not secession or insurrection, but neither is it unconditional or unlimited submission. Nullification is not something that requires any decision, statement or action from any branch of the federal government. Nullification is not the result of obtaining a favorable court ruling.
Nullification is not the petitioning of the federal government to start doing or to stop doing anything. Nullification doesn’t depend on any federal law being repealed. Nullification does not require permission from any person or institution outside of your own state.
So just what is nullification you might be asking?
Nullification begins with a decision made in your state legislature to resist an unconstitutional federal law. It usually involves a bill, which is passed by both houses and is signed by your governor. In some cases, it might be approved by the voters of your state directly, in a referendum.
It may change your state’s statutory law or it might even amend your state constitution. It is a refusal on the part of your state government to cooperate with, or enforce a particular federal law deemed to be unconstitutional.
DDG: In recent decades there seems to be a growing number of academics and politicians alike who believe in strong executive authority, that is the belief that the President of the United States can essentially do anything he wants - with or without the permission of Congress or the states for that matter. In 1973, Arthur Schlesinger bemoaned this trend with his book “The Imperial Presidency.” What is your thoughts on this? Do you think that the Presidency has overstepped its authority and grown too powerful?
Boldin: There doesn’t seem to be a single part of the federal government that has not overstepped its constitutionally delegated powers in massive ways. Today, we have a federal government that crosses the line almost constantly.
The federal government believes that it is authorized to tell us what size toilet we can have, what kind of light bulbs we can buy, what kind of plants we can grow and consume in our backyard, and soon - how much they can penalize us for inactivity. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Yes, the Executive Branch has overstepped its authority. Congress has overstepped its authority. The Courts have overstepped their authority. And many Federal departments and agencies shouldn’t even exist - if we care about the Constitution, liberty and prosperity, that is.
DDG: I hear pundits saying things like “the Federal government exists to protect me from my state government.” What would be your response to that?
Boldin: This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Nowhere in the founding records is there any indication that the “People of the Several States” created a federal government to “protect them from state governments.”
Instead, they formed that government to take on roles they felt that the States were inadequately equipped for on their own. And, recognizing that unlimited power was likely the greatest threat to liberty, they did something unique in history, and wrote a Constitution to provide specific limits to federal power.
That doesn’t mean, however, that state governments are a bunch of angels. Many, if not most, of them are awful. But, when power is decentralized and dispersed over large areas, bad decisions are checked whereas one-size-fits-all “solutions” affect us all.
Think of it this way. If George W. Bush had been president of just Texas and Barack Obama presided only over Illinois - the world would likely be a much different - and better - place.
Maybe REAL ID, No Child Left Behind and TARP would’ve just hit Texas. And Illinois would’ve been stuck with Health Care Mandates, the NDAA, and others. As Ronald Reagan used to put it - when problems arise, you can still have a chance - to vote with your feet. This keeps bad governments in check far more than “voting the bums” out, which seems to only give us new bums every few years.
DDG: Last question. State legislatures all across the United States have started session. What would be your number one recommendation to state legislators this year?
Boldin: For those of you with children, when they hit two or three, they had something quite important to teach you. It’s just two letters - no.
When enough people stand up and say no to Washington D.C., and enough states pass laws backing their people up, it’s pretty difficult for the Federal Government to force their unconstitutional “laws,” regulations and mandates down our throats.
The Tenth Amendment Center has plenty of model legislation ready to go and we’re here to help. There are states all over the country considering bills on various issues to say no to Washington D.C.
The time for you to join them is now. Not next year, and not next fall. Not next month or next week.; Today, not tomorrow. Right now. Liberty and the Constitution need you.
Danny de Gracia is a political scientist, an ordained minister and a former senior adviser to two committee chairs of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He currently lives in Hawaii.
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