The Daily Beast: Wrong on History, Wrong on Nullification

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
The Daily Beast: Wrong on History, Wrong on Nullification

Add The Daily Beast to the roster of “news” organizations that don’t understand the Constitution.

In an “Exclusive” story published on July 28, Ben Jacobs attacks Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, for believing in nullification. Here’s Jacobs’ smear in his own words:

Ernst, a first-term state senator, has never explicitly supported pro-nullification legislation in her time in the Iowa state senate. However, she co-sponsored a resolution that says “the State of Iowa hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” It was introduced in response to “many federal mandates [that] are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

States cannot nullify federal laws, of course.

In embracing the concept of nullification, Ernst harkens back to a discredited theory that the Constitution is a compact and states are free to void federal laws that they dislike. This view was widely promoted by John Calhoun, the great Southern advocate of slavery, prior to the Civil War and was touted by segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, the idea was purged of its most racist overtones and fringe elements of the right adopted it as an argument against Obamacare, gun control, and other federal regulations.

Where to begin?

First, Ernst never said she supported nullification. Here’s Ernst’s statement from a September 2013 appearance that Jacobs uses as a jumping-off point for his exposition of constitutional ignorance:

You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right … we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators — as senators or congressmen — that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.

That’s not even close to the full-throated, Jeffersonian defense of nullification that Jacobs and The Daily Beast make it out to be.

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