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Profile: Martha Dean

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Martha Dean was a participant or observer in the following events:

Martha Dean.Martha Dean. [Source: Connecticut Political Reporter]Connecticut attorney general candidate Martha Dean, a Republican lawyer, says state governments should be able to ignore federal laws if their lawmakers so choose, even if the US Supreme Court rules the laws constitutional. In some instances, “the Supreme Court is just wrong, so what option does the state have?” Dean says. “They have the option of nullification.” “Nullification” is the idea that the Tenth Amendment gives the states the power to “nullify,” or override, federal law. [The Day, 10/14/2010] The concept gained national notoriety in 1830, when Vice President John C. Calhoun set off the so-called “Nullification Crisis” that almost led to an armed conflict between South Carolina and the rest of the nation, and helped set the stage for the Civil War 30 years later. It came to the fore again in 1956, when segregationists attempted to use the concept to persuade state leaders to ignore the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that mandated the desegregation of public schools (see March 12, 1956 and After); Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus attempted to invoke “nullification” when he resisted orders to integrate Little Rock public schools, an effort that was shut down by unanimous rulings of the Court. Article 6 of the Constitution states that acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land… anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Founding father James Madison argued that nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself” by allowing federal laws to be freely ignored by states. [Constitution (.org), 8/28/1830; Think Progress, 9/27/2010; The Day, 10/14/2010] Dean says the doctrine of “nullification” is valid and viable, saying: “This is a tool that has existed. It is a tool that isn’t often used. It isn’t often needed.” She says that when state officials such as herself, or elected governors or lawmakers, feel the federal government’s laws surpass Tenth Amendment limitations, then Connecticut and other states should nullify those laws. Dean says her position is controversial only to “the left.” However, the idea has been used for centuries by anti-government activists, most memorably during the run-up to the Civil War and the battle over civil rights for African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Law professor Richard Kay says the idea is entirely invalid. “This was a very plausible argument up until 1865,” Kay says. “But after the Civil War, what was a genuine argument about the nature of the American constitutional system was pretty decisively decided. Since 1865 it’s pretty much a settled matter, with some rare fringe arguments to the contrary. The question of who has the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution was settled” in favor of the US Supreme Court. The idea that the Constitution is not an ultimately binding authoritative document, but merely an agreement between autonomous states—the core of “nullification”—has always been “very controversial,” Kay notes, and has been rejected by the Supreme Court since 1819. Dean states that the Court’s decisions have been twisted by “liberal law professors,” and rejects the idea that the US Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality. Her opponent, Democrat George Jepsen, says her idea would lead to chaos. If states can simply refuse to abide by the rulings of the Supreme Court, federal statutes themselves would become unenforceable, he says, and there would be nothing to stop states from seceding altogether. “The point is that we have one Constitution and there needs to be one place that defines what that Constitution means,” Jepsen says. “Under nullification, any state legislature, any state governor could declare that a law is unconstitutional. That would send us onto a course where there would be 50 different unique interpretations of a federal statute. We would cease to be a united nation.” Jepsen calls Dean’s views “extreme.” Dean contends that the idea would not necessarily threaten the Union, and says, “It’s been worked out in the past.” She goes on to say that “I don’t think desegregation was really controversial aside from a few states in the South.” Kay says Dean’s views were quite mainstream in 1842, but not since then. [The Day, 10/14/2010] After being challenged by a constitutional scholar, Dean cites the work of a neo-Confederate segregationist as further support of her position (see October 14, 2010). Jepsen will defeat Dean in the general election, beating back an election-eve attempt by her to challenge his credentials to serve as attorney general. [Hartford Courant, 11/3/2010]

Entity Tags: John C. Calhoun, Martha Dean, Orval Faubus, George Jepsen, Richard Kay, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Brooke Obie of the Constitutional Accountability Center attacks a recent statement of position by Connecticut attorney general candidate Martha Dean, who advocates the concept of “nullification”—the idea that states can ignore or override federal laws if they so choose (see October 14, 2010). Obie says Dean’s position is a “dangerous” claim that ignores the fundamental precepts of the US Constitution and every relevant court decision since before the Civil War. Articles III and VI of the Constitution explicitly place federal law over states’ laws, and place the Supreme Court firmly in the position of being the final arbiter of whether a federal law is unconstitutional. “It is disturbing that Dean, seeking office as a state’s chief lawyer, said in the interview that she does not ‘accept’ that the Supreme Court has this authority,” Obie writes, and refers Dean to the first Chief Justice, John Marshall, who wrote that “[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Nullification is “completely unconstitutional,” Obie writes, and has been used to bring about “some of the most divisive moments in our history: from the attempted destruction of our great nation by secessionists in the 19th century, to the dividing of people by segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s. Encouraging such backsliding of America into its darkest days is an extremely dangerous position for anyone to take, let alone someone seeking to become a state attorney general.” [Constitutional Accountability Center, 10/14/2010] In the comments section of Obie’s article, Dean reprints a post from Thomas Woods that Woods posted on his blog in response to Obie. Woods is a pro-Confederate segregationist. Woods calls Obie’s work a “fifth-grade research paper masquerading as a critique of Martha Dean,” and goes on to say that “[a]lmost every single sentence in this post is wrong. Your view of the Supremacy Clause is wrong, your view of Article III is grotesquely wrong, your summary of the history of nullification is absurd, and your comment about secessionists makes no sense. South Carolina was complaining that the NORTH was nullifying too much. Talk about getting the history exactly backwards!” He compares Obie’s views to “progressives,” neoconservatives, and Adolf Hitler. Think Progress’s legal expert Ian Millhiser later notes that Woods is a co-founder of the neo-Confederate League of the South, and has called the Civil War a battle between “atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other,” contending that the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 was “[t]he real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today.” Dean has cited Woods before, in one debate reading aloud from his book in support of nullification. Woods is a prolific contributor to the far-right Tenth Amendment Center, a pro-nullification group which pushes political candidates to sign a pledge promising to nullify federal laws such as Social Security and Medicare which do not comply with their “tenther” view of the Constitution. [Constitutional Accountability Center, 10/14/2010; Think Progress, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Martha Dean, Constitutional Accountability Center, Brooke Obie, Ian Millhiser, John Marshall, League of the South, Thomas Woods, Tenth Amendment Center

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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