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When nullification opponents need some conservative cred to back up theirjudge arguments, they turn to the Heritage Foundation.

And when Heritage needs to smack down nullification, it turns to its big gun – Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., Vice President, American Studies and Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.

But despite the impressive sounding title, Spalding doesn’t know squat about nullification, as he’s demonstrated time and again in his confused but emphatic dissertations on the subject.

It remains unclear how a guy working for an organization that brought you the individual mandate and defends indefinite detention under the NDAA has any credibility on constitutional issues. Nevertheless, Tal Kopan turned to Spalding for the conservative take on nullification in her Politico piece titled States Seek to Nullify Obama Efforts.

And once again, Spalding delivered an incoherent attack on nullification, essentially saying he was against it, while touting it as a legitimate response to federal overreach.

There are a rising number of people who are frustrated with what Washington is doing, which is a perfectly legitimate and, in my opinion, correct view of ‘how do we push back?’” he told POLITICO. “Unfortunately, there’s a minority in that group that thinks nullification is the answer, by which they mean good old-fashioned, South Carolina, John C. Calhoun nullification. That’s deeply mistaken and unfortunate.

If there was any serious national movement advancing a “good old-fashioned, South Carolina, John C. Calhoun” type of nullification, I would have to agree with Spalding. I would consider it deeply mistaken and unfortunate. But nobody I’ve ever met in today’s nullification movement advocates for Calhoun’s version of nullification.


That’s because Calhoun was dead wrong.

It seems Spalding likes to pull Calhoun’s name out of his hat because James Madison vocally opposed the South Carolina Senator during the so-called Nullification Crisis in the 1830s. Spalding can conflate “Calhoun nullification” with the general principles of nullification and pretend the third president didn’t actually believe in them to buoy his case. He trotted out this line of thinking back in 2011.

Nullification is the argument that individual states have a constitutional authority to void federal laws. John C. Calhoun made this claim back in 1832 and James Madison vehemently opposed it during the Nullification Crisis leading up to the Civil War.

But Madison made it clear in his Notes on Nullification that he wasn’t opposing nullification as it’s being used today, but specifically, Calhoun’s bastardized version of the doctrine.

But it follows, from no view of the subject, that a nullification of a law of the U. S. can as is now contended, belong rightfully to a single State [emphasis added]

Madison continued

Altho’ the Legislature of Virginia declared at a late session almost unanimously, that S. Carolina was not supported in her doctrine of nullification by the Resolutions of 1798, it appears that those resolutions are still appealed to as expressly or constructively favoring

That the doctrine of nullification may be clearly understood it must be taken as laid down in the Report of a special committee of the House of Representatives of S. C. in 1828. In that document it is asserted, that a single State has a constitutional right to arrest the execution of a law of the U. S. within its limits; that the arrest is to be presumed right and valid, and is to remain in force unless ¾ of the States, in a Convention, shall otherwise decide. [emphasis added]

There you have “good old-fashioned, South Carolina, John C. Calhoun nullification,” a specific process concocted by the South Carolina legislature that asserted other states were obligated to recognize the ‘arrest of execution.” Essentially, South Carolina claimed their nullification bound all other states.

Madison wasn’t opposed to a state “arresting the progress of evil” within its own borders – that’s exactly what he recommended in Federalist #46, the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, and the Report of 1800. But he did oppose the idea that one state could hold power over the whole country.

Nobody, I mean nobody, advocates Calhoun’s brand of nullification today. Spalding either doesn’t understand the actual principles of nullification, or he’s lying to legitimize his point. Or maybe a little bit of both.

It certainly seems pretty clear that Spalding doesn’t understand nullification, because in the very next paragraph he agrees with one of the primary modes of nullification, while rejecting the principle. In other words, he’s simultaneously for it and against it.

Read more at Tenth Amendment Center