One reason my wife and I chose to retire to Northeast Tennessee was because of its natural beauty.  If you think of Elvis or Nashville or Jack Daniels when you hear the name “Tennessee,” I would ask you to, instead, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or our Tri-Cities area, nestled in the ethereal Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Sometimes, however, that attractive exterior is marred by stupidity living within.

During the 2023 legislative session, a bill was introduced in Nashville that would allow the State of Tennessee to “nullify” any federal law that they deemed to be unconstitutional.  This bill did not go very far, but now a local legislator has said he plans to push for it in 2024, and our resident Sullivan County commissioners have unanimously passed a resolution applauding this idea and urging the State Legislature to turn the bill into a law.  Phrases used in support of the resolution included “state sovereignty” and “federal overreach.”

Hmmm, where have we heard this before?  

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, it was alleged that he planned to outlaw slavery; that was not his original intent, which was simply to maintain one country, one “United States.”  But slavery had been the main sticking point in America for decades.  It was forcefully debated during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the compromises reached in Philadelphia had hardly calmed the waters ever since.  The Compromise of 1850 proved to be little more than a band aid, and the issue of slavery became Topic Number One in the 1850s.  Lincoln’s election was the final tipping point, and before his March 4 inauguration, seven states formally chose to leave the Union; four more followed after the Battle of Fort Sumter in April.  While slavery was the impetus for the formation of the Confederate States of America, their citizens always maintained they were only defending “state sovereignty” or “state’s rights,” and were fighting against “federal overreach.”

The War Between the States lasted for four years, killing close to one million people.  The Confederacy lost.

In more recent years, the forces opposing integration also continually invoked “state’s rights,” as well as phrases like “our way of life.”  They lost that fight, too.

Are we seeing a pattern here, maybe even more than one?  If you are in the minority and don’t like something designed for the greater good, dredge up dialogue that dates back to The Lost Cause.  And now, in a very polarized America, these words and phrases are being tossed around once again.  Afraid that the 21st Century is encroaching on “your way of life”?  Introduce a resolution: “It may be necessary and proper from time to time for the state of Tennessee to nullify federal actions and overreach to maintain state sovereignty in areas of authority that are reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The way I see it, the Sullivan County Commission is advocating for picking and choosing which laws they support.  Kind of like ordering off the a la carte menu in a restaurant.  So what if this nullification resolution becomes a bill, then gets passed into law?  This raises a number of questions, don’t you think?  For instance, the Tennessee Legislature contains a super-majority of conservatives.  Suppose they decide they don’t like, say, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits slavery?  Will human bondage suddenly make a comeback in the Volunteer State?  And if a state can nullify laws it doesn’t like, does that power extend to its citizens?

My mouth is watering at the prospect of being able to tell the IRS to stick it.  Speed limit signs?  Forget ‘em, they are nullified!  Pulling out my wallet whenever I walk into a store?  Not any more, I nullify that stupid convention.  Don’t like the guy who lives across the street from you?  Wow, there are a whole lot of laws that could easily get nullified here (none of which your neighbor will like).

Of course, I am being facetious.  While there are federal, state and local laws that make us scratch our heads, there are legal ways to get them changed.  If enough people fuss and pressure their representatives, and get the media involved, then proper channels are followed, the legislative wheels (slowly) move, and eventually they are legally changed or eliminated.  That is the way things work in a proper, civil society.  As glacial as it is, it helps to separate us from neanderthals, bullies and dictators of all stripes.  It is why this experiment in democracy has survived all sorts of challenges for more than two hundred years.  Hopefully, we will remain vigilant against ideas like this nullification nonsense that are rooted, it would seem, in sheer idiocy.

It makes me sad to think that the beauty I see every day in Northeast Tennessee is sullied by the ugliness of some people’s lame-brained ideas.  Hopefully, it will get no farther than the Confederacy did.

I do like the idea, though, of zipping through city streets at 50 mph!