Bobby Jindal, nullifier? Would he block SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage?

Embed from Getty ImagesBy Robert Mann

Almost every semester in one of my courses at LSU, I discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There’s a passage, however, that we always overlook: “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

I’ve never stopped to explain what King meant by “interposition” and “nullification.” Perhaps I should, because my students and the rest of us may soon hear those words – or ones much like them – from Gov. Bobby Jindal if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that anti-same-sex marriage laws violate the U.S. Constitution.

Interposition and nullification are legal terms predating the American Civil War, most forcefully advanced in 1832 by Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina during his feud with President Andrew Jackson over the imposition of protective tariffs on British imports. Southerners hated the tariffs, labeled them unconstitutional and feared that a powerful federal government might one day use its authority to abolish slavery. In November 1832, a South Carolina convention declared the federal tariff acts “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State.”

Calhoun resigned the vice presidency and argued that when states determined that Congress exceeded its constitutional powers, they could “arrest the execution of the act within their respective limits.” The 1833 federal Force Bill proved Calhoun wrong.

More than a century later when King spoke of “nullification,” he evoked the political descendants of Calhoun who thundered about undermining federal authority – this time, enforcement of court rulings on desegregation. That sentiment was most brazenly expressed in the notorious 1956 Southern Manifesto, signed by 101 Southern members of Congress, which branded the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling a “clear abuse of judicial power.”

You’d think that given the stigma of being labeled a “nullifier,” politicians – especially the Southern variety – would be wary of flouting federal laws or the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

Well, you would be wrong. Look no further than Alabama, where that state’s chief justice openly defies a federal court ruling on same-sex marriage. It’s happened in Louisiana, too. In 2010, Jindal signed legislation declaring the Affordable Care Act unenforceable in Louisiana.

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage, but Jindal already hints how he might respond if he doesn’t approve: He will support interposition and nullification.

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5 Responses to Bobby Jindal, nullifier? Would he block SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage?

  1. Pingback: Bobby Jindal, nullifier? Would he block SCOTUS ...

  2. john d fitzmorris says:

    Ghost of John C. Calhoun seems never to be laid to rest haunting the very soil and soul of the South. Jindal is not close in stature to Calhoun intellectually but I can’t wait until he is banished from the political stage as Calhoun finally was.Jindal has done more harm to Louisiana in 6 years than all he rest of the incompetent, venal, corrupt and wicked governors in the history of the state.


  3. tonyg2 says:

    I brought up the issue of John C. Calhoun, Nullification and Interposition on the Jim Engster(Tues. May 19)This was in response Jindal’s statement that he would issue an executive order to counterman the committee defeat of HB707 earlier that day.
    To that, I included the hideous specter on “Miscegenation” that was the law in Louisiana and many Southern states.
    Some people thought that I was overreacting. Its good to have kindred souls.


  4. Dorothy Parker says:

    From a cursory review of your blog, Mr. Mann, it appears you have quite the aex to grind with Bobby Jindal. While I’m no great fan of his, I thought it would be fun to conduct a little thought experiment.

    If the Supreme Court were to issue a ruling saying that there is no federal constitutional protection for seam-sex unions, and that states have no obligation to honor such unions established in other states, would you hail Jindal as prescient, or “ahead of his time,” or courageous for stating his convictions before having the Supreme Court endorse them?

    Same question for the ACA – if the forthcoming Halbig and King decisions result in the dismantling of the ACA, can we count on you to applaud Jindal for leadership on a cutting-edge policy issue?

    Of course you wouldn’t. In fact, I’d venture to guess that you rail against the Court for their Luddite views on sexual orientation, their homophobia, and their senseless adherence to outdated views on marriage. (And you know you would.)

    At that point, wouldn’t you be doing the same thing you’re criticizing Jindal for?


    • Robert Mann says:

      I am surprised that you do not see the difference between thinking a SCOTUS decision is misguided, but still being able to recognize the authority of the court. I might disagree with its rulings, but I would not suggest it does not have the authority to interpret the Constitution and that all of us should follow its rulings. One can hold both opinions at the same time. I know I do.


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