“No matter what the law is, we did what was right”
Watch the video in the previous post for the context of that quote, and the proximate inspiration for this piece.
Lately, we’ve seen states and local sheriffs responding to the possibility of laws coming from the federal government that they believe would infringe upon state and/or individual sovereignty. They are passing state laws and making statements (respectively) to the effect that they will not uphold or enforce any laws that constitute such an infringement. In some cases, they are also establishing that attempts to enforce said laws by federal officials may be legally actionable. Gun laws, Obamacare, and other impositions of federal authority are the most common.
In response, we have people across the internet—including numerous comments in threads on this site—saying that such actions by states and the sheriffs are “against the law.” They ask where in the Constitution we find the authority for such things. People, you are missing the point.
1. Government exists at the pleasure of the people.
Government exists to secure and preserve the natural rights that individuals enjoy in full measure in a state of nature. It exists to fulfill a limited set of functions that we alone cannot exclusively fulfill. It exists because we consent to its existence.
If a law is passed that violates this compact, we do not throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, that’s what the law says—we have to obey it.” If a law violates a natural right, we do not look to the law to justify the violation.
No law that violates this compact is legitimate. No government that routinely violates this compact is legitimate. Government has power only because the people give it power.
2. The federal government exists at the pleasure of the states
Centralizers may not be happy about it, but that is the fact. The states made the federal government. They agreed to form a union. They demanded a Bill of Rights. How this relationship has played out over the years has been changing, but that doesn’t change the original fact of our national construction.
A law that violates individual sovereignty is not legitimate, no matter what the law says. In the same way, if the federal government goes too far and violates state sovereignty, this too may be illegitimate. There is a line that the federal government can cross, whereby the states can simply say NO. It such a case, we do not turn to the the letter of the Constitution, we turn to a true understanding of its intent.
Which brings us to our final point . . .
3. The Constitution is not holy writ
The Constitution is a brilliant document. It was one of the first, and remains one of the best, extensions of natural human rights into a political society. The “social contract” is almost always a philosophical construction. Our Declaration and Constitution remain among the very few instances in human history where the social contract was actually signed. Anyone who reverences human rights should get the chills just thinking about it.
But the Constitution is not perfect. Forces bent on circumventing its intent have succeeded in circumventing its intent. If it were perfect, they would not have gotten away with this.
Thus, when statists cross a line and violate the sovereignty of states or individuals, it is not legitimate even if justification for the violation can somehow be wrung out of the letter of the Constitution. Similarly, resistance to such a violation is legitimate, even if stipulation for such resistance cannot be found in the letter of the Constitution.
Bottom line: Right is right, and wrong is wrong, no matter what the law says.
Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including AnyStreet.org (now a part of Western Free Press) and Liberatchik.com. He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to WesternFreePress.com.
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