Heavens to Martha Washington! The federal government is suing the state of California over the Golden State's "sanctuary" laws.
The complaint, filed earlier this month in federal district court in Sacramento, alleges that California's sanctuary statutes "reflect a deliberate effort by California to obstruct the United States' enforcement of federal immigration law." California's attorneys immediately popped into court to ask for a dismissal of the case but the judge refused, telling them that the matter brings up "a lot of Constitutional issues" that need resolution.
It sure does; the litigation would make an excellent lab course for Incline High School's nationally recognized "We The People" class and its instructor Milt Hyams.
Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power "to establish a Uniform Rule of Naturalization … throughout the United States." Article VI states: "… the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme law of the land … the Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."
Hmmm. Sounds like the founding dads could foresee the crazies taking over La La Land over 200 years ago. If the Constitution grants to Congress exclusive power to enact all laws on naturalization and the Supremacy Clause of Article VI renders inconsistent state laws invalid, California is just screwed, right?
Maybe. There is a long history of state-federal dustups. Two years into the War of 1812 New England political leaders gathered in secret at the Hartford (Connecticut) Convention to consider secession from the union. Their gripe? They believed the Constitution apportioned political power unfairly, but even more urgent was the war against England.
They wanted trade with England, not war, but President Madison had imposed an embargo. As they were meeting in December 1814, the U.S. and Britain were executing a peace treaty in Paris and, as if to punctuate it, General Andrew Jackson pummeled the British the following month in the Battle of New Orleans (no one knew the war was over).
The Hartford Convention disbanded without action but University of Connecticut law professor Weston Janis wrote on its 200th anniversary: "Secession remains a live issue … from Ukraine to Scotland, from Quebec to Catalonia." He might have added: "and Incline Village."
The next historical hiccup occurred in 1828 over tariff laws. The industrialized north wanted protection from European competition whereas the south was agrarian and relied on free trade. South Carolina adopted an "Ordinance of Nullification" insisting that states could determine when the federal government exceeded its powers and that such laws would be "null and void" in that state.
In response Andrew Jackson, by then president, had Congress pass the "Force Bill" authorizing federal military action to collect tariffs in South Carolina. Carolinians caved.
In the lead up to the Civil War southern politicians grumbled terms like "nullification" and "secession" but didn't act on them until 1860 when Lincoln was elected by a plurality but not a majority. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union. Six more followed suit.
Lame duck President James Buchanan viewed secession as illegal but also believed it would be illegal for the federal government to halt states seceding. He was probably overjoyed to give the White House keys to Lincoln after his March 1861 inauguration. The following month the South resolved Lincoln's inherited quandary by attacking federal Fort Sumter, triggering "the war to save the union."
After the Civil War the radical Republicans ruled the roost. They passed Constitutional Amendments that confirmed freedom of slaves, their right to vote, their citizenship, but nothing about nullification or secession.
So if California loses this court case are we going to read that they attacked San Diego's Navy installations? Stay tuned.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.