Last Updated:November 24 @ 07:08 pm

Williams: Should We Obey All Laws?

By Walter E. Williams

Let's think about whether all acts of Congress deserve our respect and obedience. Suppose Congress enacted a law -- and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional -- requiring American families to attend church services at least three times a month. Should we obey such a law? Suppose Congress, acting under the Constitution's commerce clause, enacted a law requiring motorists to get eight hours of sleep before driving on interstate highways. Its justification might be that drowsy motorists risk highway accidents and accidents affect interstate commerce. Suppose you were a jury member during the 1850s and a free person were on trial for assisting a runaway slave, in clear violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Would you vote to convict and punish?

A moral person would find each one of those laws either morally repugnant or to be a clear violation of our Constitution. You say, "Williams, you're wrong this time. In 1859, in Ableman v. Booth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constitutional." That court decision, as well as some others in our past, makes my case. Moral people can't rely solely on the courts to establish what's right or wrong. Slavery is immoral; therefore, any laws that support slavery are also immoral. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."

Soon, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare, euphemistically titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is absolutely no constitutional authority for Congress to force any American to enter into a contract to buy any good or service. But if the court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, what should we do?

State governors and legislators ought to summon up the courage of our Founding Fathers in response to the 5th Congress' Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Led by Jefferson and James Madison, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 were drafted where legislatures took the position that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. They said, "Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government ... (and) whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." The 10th Amendment to our Constitution supports that vision: "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."

In a word, if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, citizens should press their state governors and legislatures to nullify the law. You say, "Williams, the last time states got into this nullification business, it led to a war that cost 600,000 lives." Two things are different this time. First, most Americans are against Obamacare, and secondly, I don't believe that you could find a U.S. soldier who would follow a presidential order to descend on a state to round up or shoot down fellow Americans because they refuse to follow a congressional order to buy health insurance.

Congress has already gone far beyond the powers delegated to it by the Constitution. In Federalist No. 45, Madison explained: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." That vision has been turned on its head; it's the federal government whose powers are numerous and indefinite, and those of the state are now few and defined.

Former slave Frederick Douglass advised: "Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. ... The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.


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  1. PATRIOTComment by PATRIOT
    May 16, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    Moral laws are created only by moral people. Our Congress is no longer moral. They no longer protect the interests of America and her people. The politicians are selling America out to foreign powers and spending us into oblivion. The American people have been conditioned for many years to comply with the laws of our country for the good of all. Unfortunately, this conditioning has left us with what appears to be an inability to recognize and rise up against immoral or anti-American laws and the political elitist class that subjugates us under those laws. Only time will tell if we will push back the chains of an unjust government and nullify the wrong that has been done to this great country.

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  2. JimWComment by JimW
    May 16, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    If the President can elect to not enforce valid laws (immigration, Defense of Marriage Act, etc., then it only stands to reason thay WE don’t have to abide by laws we don’t like, or more correctly, HATE.

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  3. lwessonComment by lwesson
    May 16, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

    The Founders would look at what we have done to their experiment of a Representative Republic, and wretch, calling for a revolution! This is why there are NO cutesy movies out there, having the poor souls, witness the current train wreck. The Founders said of their experiment, that a Moral People, a same People, were needed for this to work. We are neither today. No surprise in the quality of Politicians, then.

    We the People are constantly under siege, with mountains of laws that criminalize, near everything, criminalize that which supposedly are unalienable rights of Man, like the Second Amendment, speech, religion, assembly… .

    The FORCE is for us, We the People, to OBEY, or else. Or else, be made an example of to the rest of the Sheeple, to be compliant.

    Another point, I wish that Prof. Williams, would not dive into the morass of cultural relativism, taking something that is considered immoral now, and washing the past as if to make it clean, somehow making that which was thought as moral by many, as immoral. A dangerous pool to swim in!

    My observation that Slavery is most alive and well TODAY, in the world, despite being immoral, begs the issue, as to why it is tolerated at all now, but it is?

    Further, in the 1860′s, Lincoln was elected with a whopping 39% of the popular vote. The promise to impose despised Federal tariffs on the South, sat rather poorly. The assurance that the South was going to be locked in, thus loosing the balance of Senators, was a second tier status that was rejected. The end of slavery without compensation, something that Northern Enterprises, would never find palatable, was the destiny for the South, and an economic ruin that was to be their burden to live with. They, Northerners, made fortunes on Slave Trade, but oddly, would face eventual taxation, if the South failed economically.

    The final straw, for many States, like Virginia, was Lincoln calling on for soldiers, to begin a war on the States that he could not let go, for loss of Federal Revenue. Lincoln said as much.

    The ensuing calamity would claim the lives, way over 600,000. The expense, countless dollars, the destruction one region of the country, and the creation of a Federal Gov. that looked at the various States, as but mere Shires in the Crown, and the Constitution, as a kind of quaint sort of guideline, is a continuing running tab. Immoral War? Here, Prof. Williams, should note, just when, the rights of the People & States, were turned on their head.

    The neat clever twist was to redefine The Awful War, in contortions of non Constitutional gibberish, and explain the torrents of blood, as a glorious war to end slavery. Lincoln’s unfortunate death, by assassination, something that he tried to do to the Southern Government, sealed a much needed Sainthood, and thus a greatly desired validation for the war.

    Note, there was no attempt to prosecute Southern leaders, in a court of law. There was much fear, that the Supreme Court would rule that Mister Lincoln had NO right to prosecute such a war, and the various (former) Free & Independent States and their people, had every right to leave. Thomas Jefferson, said as much, that if you are not free to leave, YOU ARE NOT FREE.

    Then, mentioning Fredrick Douglass, someone who rejoiced in hearing about the casualties of Whites in the ensuing slaughter, is interesting. Douglass was not the least amused at Lincoln’s desire to repatriate Blacks to other places and Africa, such as Liberia, a place set up for just that.

    What is amazing, just how much this particular, destructive War, has cost the Republic to this day.

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  4. cxComment by genesal
    May 16, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

    What we need is a real ‘Tea Party’. I mean an event not a political affiliation (though we need that also).

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    • handymanherbComment by handymanherb
      May 16, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

      I was at a big one in Orlando we had 2500 plus there, so where were you on the 15th of April, I got off the couch and put in seven hours, from hanging the flags in the back of the amphitheater,helping with security to taking down the flags and helping clean up.

      Did I have other places I could be, Yes, but then I had better things to do before and look at the mess we put our children into not watching every move they made to sink us into debt.

      So get out there and join your local TEA Party, if you don’t have one near you we will help you start one, we started our a year ago and we had 75 at the Mondays meeting

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    • cxComment by genesal
      May 16, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

      I’m not talking about a meeting herb. I’m talking a real ‘Tea Party’ the same as our good forefathers had in Boston. Talk talk talk is just that talk talk talk. 2500 people talking are just that 2500 people talking.

      When you can match my 2555 days off the couch making sure you and others were safe while protecting our freedoms, that enable y’all to meet, then come talk to me about a meeting.

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  5. middlegroundComment by middleground
    May 16, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Lwesson wrote what might be termed an able defense of all the concepts the South felt justified their withdrawing from the Union, but the reality is that Lincoln understood better than most politicians of his time the “Laws of Simplicity” or simply stated: “Keep it simple stupid.” With the stroke of his pen he refocused all the technical and constitutional issues of whether states can withdraw from the union into one central issue – slavery, and with that new focus no European nation could afford to support the Southern cause. The war became wealthy plantation owners exploiting poor helpless Blacks and all other aspects became secondary. Why are Mose’s Ten Commandments still mentioned? Because the last six are clear and simple rules that can apply to any society and the first four are a prelude to tell those in a primitive society they’d better pay attention or else. Woodrow Wilson focused his foreign policy on the simple concept of standing against the barbaric Huns who had left a path of death and destruction in the wake of their armies, even stupidly burning one of the World’s great libraries and shooting innocent civilians.

    President Obama was elected using the motto of: Hope and Change and no one asked: change what, why should we change and how will it be done. Four years later many have awakened to what he meant by change, namely, an all powerful centralized government to replace our poorly understood Constitutional government.

    Today the question on everyone’s mind is twofold: 1) restoring the controls on presidential power and 2) ending mindless spending of money we don’t have on unproductive activities and on corruption.

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      May 16, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

      Thank you, I guess, Sir. <— Col. Saunders accent.

      Lincoln's refocusing, was a desperation, two fold, and effective, ultimately in one aspect.

      One, Lincoln found the Europeans, exasperation of the North, prosecuting a most destructive war on the South, a war that the North was far from winning, was so inexcusable in the context of the recent, Declaration of Independence, of the English Colonies, that European recognition of the Confederacy, Lincoln thought, most likely.

      Even Charles Dickens, who had no love for slavery, or really, much per the uncouth America, found, The War, was for Northern economic gain, and thus indefensible. More events like the Trent Affair, would result in some kind of intervention, or outright, broadened war with England… .

      Two: The Emancipation, the pen stroke applied, had two elements. It did not free slaves in States, that did not leave the Union, nor did it free slaves, under control of Union military occupation. It freed slaves, in the control of the Southern Confederacy. Why?

      It was thought, that such a proclamation would lead to a bloody slave revolt, (think Haiti, very nasty) drawing Southern man power away from it's Armies. It did not. What it did do, was make many in the Union, wonder that if they agreed to, that to save the Union, the South had to stay, they now were in some unwanted agreement, that their sacrifice was now, to free the slaves in the South. Many in the North, were none too keen on freedmen, everywhere in the North, the exception being Abolitionists.

      Further, this Lincoln clarification, swept away his previous words, promises, that he would free NO slaves to save the Union if, that was what was needed to keep the South in. Many in the Union were not happy with these changes.

      The largest riot in American History occurred in New York City, where the first use of Gatling Guns were aptly used on rioters attacking, I think it was, The New York Times, a happy sponsor of the war. ( I will have to go and check a number, but thousands (tens?) of journalists and protestors were arrested in the Union… )

      So, The Emancipation ultimately made for greater war effort in the South.

      It did, take the breath away in Europe for recognition, at that stage of the conflict, but not support in other areas. So here, Lincoln, won with the European coming conflict, with a pen stroke!

      The exploitation of people is an ongoing Human thing, sad to say. Wealthy Plantation Owners, were far from getting wealthy in the conflict, and lost most everything. Southerners, as a whole, were far removed from the world of Rhett Butler's Gone with the Wind. What is interesting are the % of Free Blacks that owned slaves. That should make Jessie Jackson & "Rev" Sharpton, gulp in their quest for, what is it, reparation moneys.

      As we can see, this is far from being some simple bubble gum history. (writing a book…) Gen. Lee, had freed his slaves, whereas some in the North, owned slaves. Lee thought of the issue, as one that would be resolved, in the end of slavery.

      What I fear, Middleground, is that Obama, will be like his favored Lincoln. The resounding ignorance of our history, our Constitution, Bill of Rights, The Declaration, will have the Nanny State Minions, calling for, demanding martial law.

      Arrests for people like myself and you, and countless others, would no doubt spark, the rebellion that the Founders said as to the needed feeding the Tree of Liberty, with the blood of tyrants & patriots.

      In the 1860's the Tree was drowned.

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  6. techwreckComment by techwreck
    May 16, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    Walter Williams is one of my heroes, and his assertion that legality does not equal morality is correct. Unfortunately, citizens are subject to prosecution if they do not comply with a federal law.

    Williams recommendation for nullification has merit, however, because it would be one way of finding out for sure whether two-thirds of the states would vote to call a constitutional convention to void Obamacare if nullification fails. 34 states can call a constitutional convention if Congress fails to pass a constitutional amendment voiding Obamacare and send it to the states for ratification. Congress would have to think twice before ignoring such a challenge.

    38 states (three-fourths) would be required to ratify constitutional amendment before it was effective.

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      May 16, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

      Constitutional Conventions can be, ah, big in total changes. The Constitutional Convention, to Amend the Articles of Confederation, ran away from the intent.

      Seeing that the Federal Government, has likewise, run loose, despite the best efforts to keep a more powerful central government on a leash, via The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, I shudder what might happen, at such a Convention, just to knock out Obama Care.

      I think that Williams, is on the right track, asking for State nullification. If Federal Soldiers are called to arrest various State Legislatures, Governors, media and people, as has been done before in the 1860′s, likely this will OUT the tyrants and end their game in power.

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  7. pcsrockyComment by pcsrocky
    May 16, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

    We have to work for this again. Many of the laws passed by Congress need to be struck down because they have taken over the rights of the states. If the Justices rule in favor of Obamacare, states like MN will have a very difficult time getting our DFL Governor and Constitutional Office holders to go against Obama. Every vote on every office is important, many people seem to forget that truth. We must seek divine intervention to help us make some changes and get sanity to return to the government.

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  8. dragonlord67Comment by dragonlord67
    May 16, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    Well, Obama can declare Martial Law if he wants. He can even have my guns. When he pries them from my cold, dead hands, that is. Until then, I am preparing for the coming rebellion if the Sheeple vote the tyrant back into office in November.

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