The Corner

The Return of Calhoun

Sean Wilentz argues against “the claim that state legislatures or special state conventions or referendums have the legitimate power to declare federal laws null and void within their own state borders,” a claim that is being revived “in the name of resisting federal legislation on issues ranging from gun control to health care reform.” I certainly agree that state governments cannot override or ignore federal law. But surely they can ask federal courts to strike down federal laws that, in their judgment, conflict with the highest federal law, and they can pass legislation designed to encourage that result.

I don’t remember Wilentz saying anything about the argument–which actually went to the Supreme Court, and not all that long ago–that states could legalize medical marijuana notwithstanding contrary federal law. He says nothing about that cause, which is not primarily associated with the Right, in this piece. Perhaps he would object to “nullificationism” in that case, too. But I wonder if he would be so quick to associate it with the causes of slavery and segregation.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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