Nullification in a Nutshell

Email Print

The “Principles of 98,” as they came to be known, are
rarely discussed in modern history lectures even though these are
integral to understanding how our federal Constitution was intended
to function. These are the principles of state interposition or
nullification that assert that if the federal government fails to
check itself through one of its three branches, then it would be
up to the states to rein in the feds.

The main basis for the theory is that the states created the national
government when they joined the compact and not the other way around.
The states therefore retained the power to judge for themselves
the constitutionality of federal laws and reserved the right to
refuse to enforce them if they went beyond their constitutionally
delegated powers. As a matter of fact, nullification was used even
before the implementation of the Constitution when the Colonists
nullified laws made by the British Monarchy. The concept of a state
nullifying a federal law simply means that a state refuses to comply
with the law or permit its enforcement within state boundaries.

The man widely regarded as the “Father of the Constitution,”
James Madison, described just how a federal system would work in
his essay Federalist No. 51. Madison, encouraging his fellow
countrymen to ratify the newly drafted Constitution, described a
system of horizontal as well as vertical checks and balances between
the federal and state governments – a system known as federalism.
“Hence, a double security arises to the rights of the people.
The different governments will control each other, at the same time
that each will be controlled by itself.”

the rest of the article

19, 2010

D. Krey, Esq. is a freelance writer who works in the corporate world
and has an M.B.A., J.D. (law degree) and an L.L.M. (masters of law)
from the University of Buffalo. Patrick is also a general practice
Attorney admitted to the bar in New York State. His writings focus
on national issues and have been published online at,,,, The Tenth
Amendment Center
and in The
New American
bi-weekly print magazine.

Email Print