Yale University might have erased the name of John C. Calhoun from one of its residence halls, but an interesting article at Law and Liberty suggests that officials in the state of California are relying on arguments made by the old nullifier in opposing federal immigration policy.
Calhoun was the seventh vice president of the United States, and though the South Carolina politician died before the Civil War broke out, some of his ideas figured heavily in the South's ultimate belief that it could withdraw from the United States.
No, I don't by any stretch of the imagination adopt any absurd notion that we are on the verge of a Civll War–things aren't that bad!–but I found this observation from the article, written by Carson Holloway, arresting:
California’s behavior today is reminiscent of the course charted by South Carolina in the nullification crisis of 1832, when John Calhoun previewed for the country the impulses and arguments that would later lead to secession and civil war.
Southerners hated the tariff enacted in 1828 to protect Northern industrial interests, the so-called "Tariff of Abominations." South Carolina declared the tariff null and void and furthermore declared that it was illegal for South Carolinians to enforce payments of the tariff.
Holloway, a visiting scholar at the B. Kenneth Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundaton, writes:
To be sure, California has not (yet) gone as far as South Carolina. California’s legislation does not formally claim a power to nullify federal immigration law. And even the boldest of its recently enacted laws does not make it illegal for federal officials to enforce federal immigration law. It rather stops short at making it unlawful for some businesses to cooperate voluntarily—that is, in the absence of a court order—with federal immigration authorities.
By holding back to this extent, California hopes to stay, even if just barely, on the right side of the Supremacy Clause—that provision of the Constitution that declares the laws of the United States “the supreme law of the land . . . any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Yet there is one sense in which California’s position is even more extreme than that taken by the incendiary South Carolinians of 1832. After all, the proto-confederates at least claimed, however unreasonably, that the federal law they opposed was unconstitutional. California’s politicians, in contrast, do not assert the unconstitutionality of America’s immigration laws. They just don’t want them to be enforced.
Such differences aside, today’s Californians are clearly acting in the same spirit as their nullifying predecessors. To borrow the words of the South Carolina Nullification Ordinance, California’s leaders seek, as much as they dare, “to prevent the enforcement and arrest the operation” of federal law. And their actions raise dangers similar to those that were highlighted by President Andrew Jackson when he condemned the 1832 Nullification Ordinance.
Advocates for federalism want the states to exercise their rightful authority and not be absorbed into an ever-growing federal maw. That is not the point here.
The point is that, when you really, really want something, any justification will do, or at least that seems to be the case right now in California.