A number of years ago I had the privilege of serving as a foreman on a jury, and I bring this up as an illustration of a principle that the American people may be in the process of rediscovering. We shall see.
The principle is called nullification, and there are different places it can show up. Jury nullification is one, and state nullification is another.
Given what I told them, I don’t really know how I made it out of the jury pool and onto the jury, but there it is. Jury nullification is that doctrine that a jury sits in judgment, not only on the defendent, but also on the law. The jury may come back with a verdict of not guilty because they are convinced the defendent didn’t do it, whatever “it” is, or at any rate that the case had not been proved beyond all reasonable doubt. We all know that part. But they also have the authority to come back with a verdict of not guilty if they are convinced that the law in question is an unjust or stupid law.
Our modern legal system doesn’t want juries to know about this, and so it has adopted the expedient of lying about it. And they lie about it in such a way that, if you know the backstory, the contradictions are thrown into high relief.
When we were all in the jury pool, we were shown a rah rah for juries video that highlighted the importance of juries in the history of our legal system. Hooray for juries, backbone of our freedoms, and so on. They pointed out how important juries were in the run up to the American War for Independence, which was quite true. But they didn’t say how or why juries were so important back then. Let me tell you that. That reason was because American juries refused to convict smugglers in the conviction that the laws against smuggling were unjust and stupid.
Then, after we potential jurors were given this inspirational snippet of non-information, we were all given a charge that we on the jury had to do absolutely everything the judge told us to do, no exceptions. We were not allowed to do what had been done back in the day when American juries were giving fits to the royal governors.
So our modern system said to us that we should be inspired by our forebears, but under no account were we to imitate them. And this means, in its turn, that we are currently ruled by miscreants, scamps, poltroons, and punks. Our ruling class has the system rigged and sandbagged in favor of their current privileges, and they guard them jealously.
But hubris has a way of catching up with you. State nullification means that if the federal government does something outrageous, which they are now doing every fifteen minutes or so, that a state can, following the thoughts of one Mr. Jefferson, just say no. The first step of this happening occurred in Missouri this last week, when a repudiation of Obamacare passed by a 3 to 1 margin. Shills for the current system rushed in to tell us that this was all for show, and was just symbolic, because federal law trumps state law. Right?
Wrong. But let’s suppose that it were right. What’s to keep us from changing that feature?
How about we the people saying that we have decided to let states say no to dumb dictats from the feds? At this, the ruling class goes white in the face. No, we can’t do that — if Missouri or Idaho or Florida could just say no, then we would have chaos! Anarchy! What could go wrong? Might Missouri run up a debt of trillions of dollars for no particular reason? Yeah, that would be bad. But let’s risk it, shall we? Don’t threaten us with impending chaos when we are trying to deal with the chaos now.
The Tea Party movement began with high levels of irritation over the level of taxing and spending, and the violations of common sense that it represented. But somewhere in there something shifted. The Tea Party movement is now genuinely angry with the ruling class for their high-handed and unconstitutional usurpations. The Tea Party started out believing that our spenders-in-charge didn’t have a brain (“You can’t spend money you don’t have, Jack”), and they are now functioning as those believing that our manipulators-in-charge don’t have a soul (“The Constitution says that you can’t do that, and you are doing it anyway.”)
In the midst of all this, Glenn Beck has been functioning as sort of an out-of-control high school civics teacher, the kind of civics teacher that most of us never had. He has pointed out to rank and file folks the existence of things like the Tenth Amendment, and a lot of people are now reacting the same way Josiah did when they found the book of Deuteronomy and brought it to him.
At the same time, if there is one thing that hubris knows how to do, it is to follow the script laid out for it. This is how the story goes. The Obama White House appears to be trying to create as many Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” optics as they can. Well, okay . . .
In the meantime, it is just eighty some days to the November elections. And as entertaining as the congressional electoral bloodbath promises to be, don’t forget the state level elections. If you get a chance, ask your state candidates if they agree with Thomas Jefferson that the states have the authority to nullify egregious laws and impish statutes from the federal level. If they do, applaud. If they don’t, ask them why not.