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Sanctuary Movement and the Doctrine of Nullification

The Doctrine of Nullification is the assertion that any state government which doesn’t like a federal law is free to violate it.  It began with early disputes over the Alien and Sedition Acts and federal tariffs and formed the central legal argument the Southern Confederacy used in its attempt to tear the federal union apart.  It ignores the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the enumerated powers of Congress and the exclusive jurisdiction given the courts to adjudicate disputes involving the states.

When it first appeared in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, George Washington warned that nullification had the potential to “dissolve the Union.”  When South Carolina used it in 1832 to ignore a federal tariff, President Andrew Jackson sent warships to Charleston harbor, threatened to hang the instigators and declared that nullification was “incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”

Washington, Jackson, and ultimately, Lincoln, understood how toxic this doctrine is to the rule of law and to the fundamental principles of federalism.  If allowed to stand, the Constitution becomes impotent, our laws become mere suggestions and the federal union disintegrates.

A century and a half later, this doctrine has re-emerged as the central tenet of the sanctuary movement embraced most conspicuously by California officials.

Like their Confederate predecessors, California secessionists assert the Tenth Amendment with no apparent understanding of it.   The Tenth Amendment reserves to the states powers NOT delegated to Congress.  Jurisdiction over immigration law is explicitly reserved to Congress and thus denied the states.  The Supremacy Clause is equally clear that the laws made within the constitutional authority of the federal government are the supreme laws of the land.

There is good reason for immigration law to be in federal hands.  As the Attorney General explained in Sacramento, if our immigration laws are not to be enforced, our national borders mean precisely nothing.  Nations that either cannot or will not defend their borders aren’t around very long.  The open borders advocated by California officials are suicidal for any nation.

Furthermore, our immigration laws are essential to promote assimilation – the glue that holds together a nation drawn from every continent.  Regulating the flow and setting the conditions of immigration assures that uniquely American traditions and values – a common language, a common culture, and a common devotion to American constitutional principles – are preserved.  Our immigration laws welcome those from around the world, but they also unite us as one people.  If we were to tolerate, much less, reward, illegal immigration, we undermine the process of assimilation our immigration laws protect and make a mockery of the millions of legal immigrants who have obeyed those laws and done everything our country has asked.

The new Confederates claim that they are not defying federal law, but just refusing to use state resources to enforce it.  Federal law is crystal clear: “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”  Yet that is precisely what California’s nullification acts do.  They go even further by threatening private citizens with criminal prosecution for merely volunteering information to federal authorities.

California officials argue that they are simply trying to preserve the trust of the illegal immigrant “community” to report crimes.  Does that mean that anyone who reports a crime or talks to a police officer should be immune from arrest for crimes they may have committed?  The Constitution commands the executive to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  That means all laws, including our immigration laws.

For all its sanctimony, the sanctuary movement’s principal legal argument springs from the same poisoned fountainhead that almost destroyed our nation in the Civil War.  President Lincoln understood that it must be confronted and defeated.  President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have made it clear that this administration does too