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The Nihilism of Sanctuary Cities

Yet the idea of a sanctuary city is Confederate to the core, reminiscent of antebellum Southern states picking and choosing which federal statutes they would abide by or reject. Even before the Civil War, the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33 pitted South Carolina against a fellow southerner, President Andrew Jackson, as the state declared that federal tariff laws were not applicable within its confines. Jackson understood the threat to the union, and promised to send in federal troops before South Carolina backed down.

The problem with legal nullification is always the enduring principle, never just the immediate landscape, of its implementation.

Sanctuary cities are careful to employ euphemisms rather than explicit references to illegal immigration. But not labeling San Francisco as an “illegal alien sanctuary” or even an “immigration sanctuary” only institutionalizes the idea of any city becoming a “sanctuary” from any federal law it finds convent. If sanctuary cities continue to flaunt federal immigration laws and if the federal government does not cut off federally earmarked funds to such offenders -- or if ICE does not, in Jacksonian style, threaten to use force to arrest and deport illegal aliens -- then the concept will spread, and spread well beyond matters of immigration law.

Much of the rural West opposes the Endangered Species Act. Can Wyoming declare that federally protected rats and bugs are not protected inside its state borders, when such pests obstruct construction of dams or highways? Many conservatives oppose federal restrictions on gun sales. Could Oklahoma City declare hand-gun purchases within its city-limits free of federal firearms statutes? Perhaps Little Rock could ignore a Supreme Court ruling and announce that gay marriage is not legal within its jurisdiction. On what rationale would liberals in California object to such nullifications -- that neither state nor city had the right to ignore a federal law or to obstruct the law enforcement duties of federal officials?

As a remedy to such reactionary nullification of liberal federal laws, would San Francisco or Los Angeles advocate cutting off federal funds, sending in federal agents, or nationalizing the local or state police? All of these are proven remedies from when recalcitrant southern states refused to abide by federal integration and civil rights laws in the 1960s.