Judd Gregg: Jerry Brown walks in George Wallace's footsteps

Judd Gregg: Jerry Brown walks in George Wallace's footsteps
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In 1832, the state of South Carolina passed a law declaring a federal statute passed by Congress to be null and void relative to the Palmetto State.

The law imposed tariffs that South Carolina’s legislature felt harmed its economic wellbeing and benefitted New England’s commerce.

At the time, the Vice President of the United States was John Calhoun, formerly a powerful senator from South Carolina.


Calhoun strongly supported the actions of his state. He claimed that every state had the right to overrule federal law to protect its people.


Andrew Jackson was president during these events. He was our first populist president. Arguably, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE is our second populist president.

Jackson strongly opposed the actions of South Carolina, believing that the constitution made it clear that federal law superseded state and local statutes, at least on matters where the constitution had not explicitly given the states jurisdiction.

This disagreement led to Jackson issuing the Nullification proclamation, which overrode South Carolina’s law.

He had the Congress follow up his proclamation with the Force Act, which said that if South Carolina continued to violate the federal tariff statute, the president was authorized to use force to make the state comply.

South Carolina threatened to leave the Union over this economic battle, a move that likely would have precipitated civil war.

The matter was resolved when a compromise, authored by Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky and Vice President Calhoun, was reached. It allowed the tariffs to go forward, but in a much more benign manner of application.

Civil war was avoided, at least for the time being.

The precedent was clearly set that neither states nor local governments had the right to disregard federal laws.

In 1957, three years after the Brown vs. Board of Education case ruled that the concept of “separate but equal” school systems was discriminatory and unconstitutional, the matter of state and local governments’ ability to ignore federal law was tested again.

This time, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus (D) refused to allow Central High School of Little Rock to be integrated.

He called out the state’s national guard, which as governor he controlled, and barred nine African-American children who had been accepted at the school from attending.

President Eisenhower said the governor’s action would not stand. He took control of the state’s national guard away from Faubus and sent in the 101st Airborne Division (without its African-American members) to escort the students to school.

Federal law prevailed, the state of Arkansas and its governor were rebuked, and segregation was dealt a substantive blow.

Again in 1963, this time in Alabama, a governor stood in the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama and declared neither he nor his state needed to follow federal law nor the constitution as defined by the Supreme Court.

Gov. George Wallace (D) was insistent that his state’s right took precedence over the Congress and federal courts. There should be no African-Americans at the University of Alabama, he proclaimed.

This again required the President of the United States — by this point, John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE — to make it clear that states and local government must follow the constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court and the laws as passed by the United States Congress. 

He sent the army to enforce the law. The University of Alabama was integrated.

Now, ironically, the same arguments and claims made by South Carolina during the Nullification crisis, and by Arkansas and Alabama in favor of segregation, are being made by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and others who promote sanctuary cities.

It is the claim of the carriers of the torch of sanctuary cities that, because they are in the right in allowing illegal immigrants to live in their jurisdictions, the federal laws can be ignored — or in some cases aggressively resisted — rather than complied with.

What is the difference between the battle cry of Jerry Brown and those of Calhoun, Faubus and Wallace? Nothing.

The sanctimony of the left is no different then the sanctimony of those who supported South Carolina in the Nullification fight or those who supported segregation in the Arkansas and Alabama confrontations.

The concept that a group of elected state and local leaders believe their views to be paramount to the laws passed by the Congress of the United States is at its core a rejection of our constitutional system.

One of the single greatest attributes of our democracy is that it is built on the concept of the rule of law.

Without the rule of law, there is little that stands between us and totalitarian rule or anarchy.

If everyone has the right to determine that they will live only by laws and decrees they deem appropriate and just, then no-one has any rights at all.

This is what Jerry Brown and others who support sanctuary cities are declaring.

They are saying that they — not the federal government that we all elect — are in the right.

By their rationale, they are justified in not allowing the federal government to enforce the laws relative to the handling of illegal immigrants.

Brown and his followers in their crusade for sanctuary cities must be proud that they are walking in the footsteps of Faubus, Wallace and their crusades against civil rights and integration.

For all these believers, their personal hubris makes them believe they have the authority to depart from the rule of law as set by a constitutional democracy.

Where does this end, this downhill slide of ignoring the rule of law and the terms of the constitution? 

It ends with chaos and the potential rise of government by the dictates of the few. 

It ends with no one being safe from the power of the self-righteous to impose on those with whom they disagree an arbitrary and dictatorial form of governance. 

It ends with fundamental damage to our constitutional democracy, and the rule of law that is at its foundation.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.