Nullification, State’s Rights, and the Sanctuary Movement

California, Minnesota, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, and at least 13 other states all recently declared themselves sanctuary states for trans youth, thus further building upon the pre-existing sanctuary movement which Trump attacked years ago for harboring undocumented immigrants. Despite the conservative backlash against the movement, many have pointed out that it is an exercise in state’s rights, something conservatives often champion. Conservatives have even recognized this fact and rolled with it, declaring Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming as “second amendment santuaries” where state authorities will refuse to help federal authorities carry out gun control measures, with at least 26 other states also all taking various steps towards building sanctuaries. But let’s rewind.

While as anarchists, we may laugh at the absurdity of such a phrase as “state’s rights” and point out that we should be focusing on individual rights instead, no matter what level of government is involved, we still, have to work within the political system we are faced with currently. We are currently living under the 2nd occupying colonialist government of this section of Turtle Island, under the Constitution of the United States, which succeeded the previous colonialist government established under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Under the Articles, the federal government was weak and ineffective, while the state governments ran most things. Those who wished to further centralize power called for a new Consitutional Convention and threw out the Articles. In a last ditch effort to protect individual rights in the face of centralization, the Anti-Federalists fought for the establishment of a Bill of Rights, the last of which, the 10th Amendement, dictates that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

While the 10th amendment designates any powers not expressly given to the federal government to the state governments, it does not include any right for the states to challenge federal law despite what many states’ rights advocates may claim. This obviously does not mean that federal law should or would go unchallenged by the states. Many states have attempted to nullify federal laws they disagree with and prevent those laws from being enforced within their state borders, including everything from fugitive slave laws to desegregation. Despite this, the Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that states have no such right to nullify federal law, instead only having the rights to challenge federal laws as unconstitutional in the court system and/or refuse to aid federal agents in enforcing federal laws while not interfering with or preventing federal agents from enforcing the laws themselves. This is exactly where the santuary movement comes in.

Sanctuary states refuse to aid the federal government in enforcing certain laws. Some sanctuary states also refuse to aid other states in the enforcement of their state laws as they apply to those who have migrated states. Sanctuary cities and counties, likewise, can refuse to enforce certain state laws. Originally, the sanctuary movement formed to protect undocumented immigrants, but the model has since used to protect medical and recreational cannabis use, psychedelic medicines, gun rights, gay marriage, safe-injection sites, abortion access, and, most recently, things like gender-affirming healthcare and trans rights.

While “state’s rights” has absolutely become a post-Civil War dog-whistle for racism, its most enduring legacy and useage, the santuary movement, lives on. But despite the commonalities, the sanctuary movement did not form out of the state’s rights movement. Its roots are even further decentralized with the original sanctuary movement consisting of various churches which act as safe havens, or sanctuaries, for undocumented immigrants, with church members protecting them from ICE and other law enforcement agencies via acts of civil disobedience. So it is not about state’s rights, it is about individual rights and is a tactic that any group with enough support could potentially utilize against a larger authority. It is a tactic that encourages decentralization by it’s very nature. We must support these sanctuaries at all costs and fight to create more of them. We must protect individual rights, whether of immigrants, drug users, gun owners, or queer folks, especially trans youth. Let’s create a network of sanctuaries that eventually engulfs the entire world.

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