Strong words rooted in history

But meaningless unless backed by equally strong action:

The morning after the Trump administration sued California over its immigration policies, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday appeared in downtown Sacramento to say states cannot defy the federal government when it comes to immigration

“A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law and creates an open borders system,” Sessions declared. “Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.

“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” Sessions said. “Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.”

The invocation of John C. Calhoun and nullification is particularly appropriate.  Calhoun’s South Carolina in 1832 claimed the power to “nullify” a hated Federal tariff by simply refusing to collect it within the State’s borders.  The president at the time, Andrew Jackson, was emphatic about Federal supremacy within its Constitutional sphere.  At his behest, Congress passed the Force Act, essentially giving Jackson the power to use military force if necessary to compel compliance and collection of duties.  It never reached that point, in no small part because of Henry Clay’s gifted statesmanship in Congress.  But the situation emphasized the power struggle over Federal versus State prerogatives nearly two decades before Southerners fired on Ft. Sumter.

One interesting aspect of the “Nullification Crisis” was that it pitted a sitting president (Jackson) against his own vice-president (Calhoun).  Two years prior to the crisis this conflict had been made apparent at the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner.  The president, aiming a barb at Calhoun and signaling his waning support for Southern arguments about States’ rights, toasted “Our Union; it must be preserved.”

Calhoun shot back: “The Union, next to our liberty most dear.  May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”

What, you thought today’s political divisions were unprecedented?  Hardly.

Here’s the point of the history brief: the immigration confrontation flips the usual situation where “conservatives” advocate the 10th Amendment’s reservation of power to the States while “liberals” seek to use Federal supremacy in everything — the better to force change they likely could not through the electoral process.  As recently as the Obama administration Arizona attempted to strengthen border security, only to be sued by the Feds for stepping into an area of Federal supremacy.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot, with the parties in power reversed.  Arizona allegedly couldn’t strengthen its border security beyond the Federal level of enforcement, but California can loosen it?  While both sides are guilty of putting power over principle, it’s both more obvious and dangerous with the sudden liberal embrace of claiming exceptions to Federal power.  The same leftist groups who argued before Federal judges in 2016 that North Carolina couldn’t ban confused men from women’s restrooms is now arguing California can have its own foreign policy in the area of immigration.  Okay…

Here’s what California and Calhoun have in common (besides both being Democrats, but I digress…): both were/are Constitutionally wrong.  Some readers may be surprised to see me write that, because Constitutionally I am a strict constructionist who interprets (in keeping with the 10th Amendment) the document as a constraint on Federal power, and am generally sympathetic to defending States’ rights.  That said, if the document expressly gives the Feds a particular power, there’s no arguing it.  In the case of Calhoun’s fight against tariffs, Article 1, Section 8 (*) of the Constitution clearly grants Congress the power to levy taxes, duties, imposts and excises, provided they are uniform throughout all States.

The Constitution does not contain the word “immigration,” but in the same section cited above grants Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.  This means States and cities have no authority to establish “sanctuaries” where illegal immigrants are given the same privileges as citizens.  Those local authorities who do so are in defiance of the Constitution, and have abrogated any oath they took to support and uphold it.  They should be held appropriately accountable for that.

Because the “sanctuary” concept has become so trendy in Leftist circles, the Trump administration now faces widespread defiance of Federal authority.  Trump is sometimes compared to Jackson (faulty personality and all).  One wonders whether he will rely solely on the courts, where your mileage varies considerably concerning Constitutional interpretation, or whether he will follow Jackson’s more direct approach.  Or, for that matter, President Lincoln’s:

WHEREAS the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law. (emphasis added)

Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed…

It’s a simple thing to substitute  California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont for the list of States in the first quoted paragraph above, and have the declaration apply to the issue of whether or not the United States can control its borders without local interference.

Given how divided we are as a nation, I have no doubt such a declaration would precede the same kind of national tragedy that Lincoln’s did.  It’s not the outcome I’d want, but reality has a way of disregarding our personal desires.   More than at any time since 1865, Americans need to rediscover how easy it is to read their own Constitution, and understand what policies are and are not acceptable under it.  That document used to be a unifying force in our national fabric.  Our current collective ignorance of it is a significant contributor to the political climate in which we find ourselves.

The tinder is very dry, and matches abound.  Pray for the best but prepare accordingly.

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(*) on a lighter note, I should point out I’ve long thought it funny that Article 1, Section 8 spells out the powers of Congress, while fans of the TV show M*A*S*H will recall the Army’s version of “section 8” refers to discharges due to mental unfitness.  Make of that what you will.

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The forgotten Amendment

I’ve written before about the 10th Amendment — an essential but now mostly overlooked part of the Bill of Rights that makes clear where the bulk of authority lies within the federation known as the United 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.”

A number of years ago there was a vocal national debate about “unfunded mandates” — Congressional legislation that requires States to fund the activity.  Several States (rightly) considered this encroachment on their State’s sovereign right to spend its tax revenue as it wishes.  The 1990s-era “Contract with America” produced legislation to curb the practice, but in reality it has continued unabated.

But passing laws may not be the costliest burden the Feds impose on the States:

Can states just say “no” to foreign refugees? Tennessee is testing that proposition in federal court.

Tennessee vs. U.S. Department of State is a case every state and taxpayer should watch closely in light of new FAIR research showing per-capita refugee costs running nearly $80,000 over five years.

During the Obama regime, the Federal government dumped tens of thousands of ‘refugees’ across America.  The term ‘refugee’ itself is misleading in this context.  True refugees are expected to return home at some point when the immediate crisis has passed.  But we find that hasn’t really been the case here.  Bringing refugees to the U.S. isn’t even the most cost-effective way to “do something,” as the emotional cry goes.  The Center for Immigration Studies suggests 12 refugees could be supported in countries adjacent to a crisis for what it costs to bring over and sustain ONE in the U.S.

Then there is the issue of what the American people want.  Since World War II, the U.S. has been incredibly generous and compassionate toward others by historical standards.  But even that big heart has limits when the public starts to perceive their leaders putting foreigners ahead of U.S. citizens.  A contributing factor in the election of Donald Trump was increasing resentment of the number of immigrants (legal AND illegal) and ‘refugees’ pouring into America.

It’s good to see the 10th Amendment being cited in a challenge.  But here’s another angle that might not be as obvious: at a time when the ballooning national debt already threatens the contractual obligations the government has to various citizens through programs like Social Security, etc, how much tolerance should there be for the government to spend scarce resources on non-citizens?  As it now stands, the country’s fiscal resources are a zero-sum game (excessive printing of currency notwithstanding); every dollar spent on foreign and refugee aid is a dollar taken from Americans — and largely against their will, as current polls show.

The States are the final bulwark against the Federal Government.  Only acting in concert can they tell Uncle Sam “you’ve exceeded your mandate — get back in your box.”  Here’s hoping the current lawsuit, along with the progress toward a Convention of States, brings that reckoning a little closer.

With great power…

…comes great fear of what those in charge will do with that power. This excerpt from a column four years ago is even more pertinent today than it was then:

The mere fact that presidential elections matter this much is not a sign of national health but of national dysfunction. The more the federal government gets involved in every aspect of our lives — for good or ill — the more people will feel that their livelihoods, lifestyles, even their actual lives are at stake in a presidential election. If the federal government didn’t have so much leverage over your life, politicians wouldn’t be able to scare you into the voting booths…

The rule seems to be runaway executive power is good, so long as my guy is in power.

That’s a dangerous principle.

Read the whole thing here.  If Trump wants a truly honorable legacy, he needs to be the one who starts sending power back to the States and the people, where the bulk of it belongs.