California’s Defiance Exposes a House (and Senate) Divided

Despite the passing of President Trump’s DACA deadline this week, with no action by Congress and even less notice from the media, California’s slow-motion revolt against the federal government continues apace. What began with the acceptance of lifestyle crimes such as marijuana smoking in violation of federal drug laws has turned into an all-out rejection of the nation’s immigration laws, followed by unilateral action by states and cities to declare themselves “sanctuaries” for illegal aliens.

As we learned in 1861-65, state nullification of federal laws is not compatible with a federal system; “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in his famous speech accepting the Republican nomination for Senate from Illinois in 1858. Although he lost to Stephen Douglas that year, and while he was talking about slavery, the principle still holds true today as applied to similarly divisive issues.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. [Emphasis mine]

Don’t think for a moment that the Left doesn’t fully understand Lincoln’s warning in the boldface words. In fact, they’re counting on it, just as the old South was counting on it when the Confederate states undertook secession. And for many of the same reasons.

Against ‘Sanctuary’ Policies—Finally
Accordingly, the Trump Administration is now pushing back against this arrant lawlessness. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday will inform a meeting of the California Peace Officers in Sacramento that the feds went to court late Tuesday night to invalidate three California state laws that inhibit federal immigration officers from doing their jobs. According to the 
Los Angeles Times: “The laws make it a crime for business owners to voluntarily help federal agents find and detain undocumented workers, prohibit local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody, and create a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.” Other states with similar “sanctuary” laws are likely to come under the gun as well.     

The long-overdue action is also a direct response to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who recently interposed herself between the illegal-alien community of the Bay Area and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (ICE). Learning of a pending ICE raid, Schaaf tipped off a prized constituency in advance, not once but twice: first in a statement and then a news conference the following day. As a result, federal agents managed to arrest only 150 aliens (and at least half of those convicted criminals), but 864 more threats to public safety escaped the dragnet. In Schaaf’s wake, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also sued the Trump Administration over a minor retaliatory action in response to the Golden State’s rogue behavior. In question was an administration decision to withhold a small law-enforcement grant to the state. Becerra’s request was, however, denied by a federal judge.

The legal collision here, as Federal District Court Judge William Orrick noted, is between the federal government’s plenary power over immigration and the legal status of aliens, and an individual state’s interpretation and implementation of federal policy. The irony is rich: recall how the Left cheered when Arizona’s attempt to exert some control over its border with Mexico (S.B. 1070) was partially invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the feds’ primacy in matters of immigration. Hilariously, the administration’s lawsuit against California is modeled on the one the Obama Administration used in 2010 to strike down parts of Arizona’s law.

Another irony is that the Left, as part of its ongoing shape-shifting, has suddenly discovered “state’s rights” in the form of the 10th Amendment, which reads: “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.” This, graybeards may recall, was practically a Republican Party platform plank when Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton in 1996.

On the federal side is the plain language of the U.S. Code, especially Title 8, Chapter 12 and its subsections. It begins:

Except as provided in subsection (b) and subsection (c) no immigrant shall be admitted into the United States unless at the time of application for admission he (1) has a valid unexpired immigrant visa or was born subsequent to the issuance of such visa of the accompanying parent, and (2) presents a valid unexpired passport or other suitable travel document, or document of identity and nationality, if such document is required under the regulations issued by the Attorney General.

That seems clear enough, but because the Left doesn’t like the law—and because it needs the votes of aliens, legal or otherwise, while it awaits the complete demographic replacement of the current U.S. majority population—it has decided to fight it. Not in the legislature, mind you, or even primarily in the courts, but on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. This is a prescription for disaster if not, down the road, civil war. So good for Trump and Sessions for finally taking on California head-on.

The modern Left prefers to argue emotions rather than principles. As it happens, their principles are entirely fungible, unless you count their one overarching principle, which is to achieve and maintain power by any means necessary. When they need a friendly federal judge to issue an injunction against some particular policy with which they disagree, they’re all in favor of a federalism that allows a single solon anywhere in the 50 states to frustrate both the legislature and the executive. This is known as “social justice.”

Alternatively, when the national legislature passes a law, or the chief executive issues an order they despise, they simply nullify it, either covertly through enforcement inaction or, increasingly, overtly, through outright defiance. This is also known as “social justice.”

A Real Constitutional Crisis
The amendment that should be in play here, though, is not the 10th but the 17th, which changed the constitutional system for electing senators. When Lincoln ran against Stephen Douglas, it was not put directly to the will of the people, but to the members of the Illinois state legislature, who chose Douglas, 54-46, after a spirited campaign that included the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. Until 1913, U.S. senators were expected to represent the interests of their states, not themselves, but direct election changed all that. Far from being part of the legislative branch, the Senate sees itself today as a kind of executive-in-waiting club, an antechamber for ambitious men and women who would really rather be in the White House—and who play to a national audience accordingly.

As a result of the 17th Amendment, the fight against the laws of the federal government is, shamefully, being led by senior Democratic senators, such as Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Charles Schumer of New York, as well as younger presidential hopefuls as Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) True, the senators from these three states would probably be almost as radical were they selected by their blue state legislatures—but not necessarily. Upstate New York, downstate Illinois, and rural California tend Republican, and their legislative districts cannot be swamped internally by the votes from the big cities, whereas in a statewide election, they stand no chance.

The Trump Administration should continue its crackdown on the open defiance of federal immigration law, and most certainly should make an example of Mayor Schaaf, for the encouragement and edification of others. But the real enemies of federal law are found within the federal legislature itself, in the makeup of the United States Senate.

These days, the “house divided against itself” isn’t the country, or even the House—it’s the Senate. Until the 17th Amendment is repealed and the balance of the Constitution restored, there will be no justice and no peace.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact

Photo credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)

Photo: (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

57 responses to “California’s Defiance Exposes a House (and Senate) Divided”

  1. I almost hope CA wins. Then “free states” can simply nullify federal gun control laws.

  2. Jews are the racial enemies of white Christian America and Jews are fomenting a race war right here inside America and in all white Christian nations as a means to destroy Christianity itself. the Jew messiah, Moshiach, the anti-Christ can only appear once Christianity is destroyed. Ever thing the Jews have done and are doing is in preparation for the arrival of their messiah. They hate Christ, Christians and Christianity and want them all dead and destroyed. Capeesh??

  3. The modern Left prefers to argue emotions rather than principles. As it happens, their principles are entirely fungible, unless you count their one overarching principle, which is to achieve and maintain power by any means necessary

    This statement is both true and correct. It would be banal but for its implications.

    • Too bad Dems revere the wrong Marx, Karl when it was Groucho who joshed what should be the Democrat Party’s motto:

      “Those are my principles. And if you don’t like them, well, I have others”.

  4. Under the Constitution, the Federal Government has authority over immigration law. NOTHING in the Constitution grants the Federal Government ANY authority over drug laws — or marriage or education.

    If you want to be a Constitutionalist, please make a rudimentary effort to understand and support the Constitution. Otherwise, you’re no better than the Left, cherry picking which rights you like and which rights you don’t like.

      • *BZZZT*

        No, sorry, that does not empower Congress to do any of what it claims. None. The “General Welfare” clause means “promote the general — and not specific — welfare,” i.e., of everyone and not simply favored constituencies. If the General Welfare clause means DC can do any damn thing it wants, then the rest of it, enumerated powers included, all have no meaning.

      • “NOTHING in the Constitution grants the Federal Government ANY authority over drug laws — or marriage or education.” Do you concur, professor?

      • The statement you have quoted is true.

      • No it is not true. Please understand the preamble grants no authority to the government.

      • Are we not understanding one another? As you quoted elsewhere in this thread, the “general welfare” clause appears in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, but does not confer any powers upon the federal government apart from those specifically enumerated.

        That being the case, what our obnoxious, trolling friend Robert Browning quoted, Nothing in the Constitution grants the federal government any authority over drug use, marriage, or education, is true. Where’s the problem?

      • Maybe not, but it does give the Federal government power to legislate. This is merely legislation, but whether you like the drug laws or not, there is nothing to stop the feds from legislating here.

      • I get really, really tired of this idiotic proclamation that the “General Welfare” gives authority to the Federal government. “General Welfare” is part of the preamble and helps explain why there is a Constitution. It gives no authority at all to the government, which is not even defined at that point. Anyone who claims the “General Welfare” in the preamble provides any authority for anything, is Constitutionally illiterate and should remain silent until he has actually read the Constitution. And, Robert Browning was an English poet and had nothing, ever, to say about the US Constitution.

      • Article I, section 8 not the preamble. But I am an idiot right??

      • Preamble:

        “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

        Article 1, section 8:

        “… provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”

        Notice, there is no comma between “Defence” and “general Welfare”, so it is a part of the authorization to provide a “defence”, not a grant of unlimited authority. So, you are still wrong and, hence, an idiot.

    • Drugs are covered under the ‘Commerce Clause’ because the products can (and do) get transported. I don’t have knowledge of the full history, but the other things you mention were not adjudicated by the creation of law by Congress but by the interpretation of law by the Supreme Court under it’s enumerated powers.

      Any ‘solution’ that hinges on overturning a Constitutional Amendment seem like a non-starter is a country as divided as the US is at this time.

      • In general, matters concerning public health and what domestically produced products are or are not contraband and so can be proscribed is left to a government that has the general police power; the power to compile individuals to do the bidding of the state.

        As late as 1919 (the Volstead Act), Congress thought the power to prohibit the sale and distribution of alcohol required a constitutional amendment because the general police power was vested in the states, not in the federal government. After the Supreme Court’s recklessly broad re-interpretation of the commerce clause in Wickard v. Filburn (1942) there simply are no important bounds on federal authority that the Supreme Court will not endorse.

      • yes– Wickard was basically a Dred Scott for commerce and property rights– there is no property right that the Congress is bound to respect. Arguably the worst SCOTUS decision of the 20th century, and one that rests on the patent sophistry of confusing potential with actual interstate commerce.

    • Nor then can it establish a right to an abortion, or control of guns, nor can it control public education, and welfare is not a right, nor are food stamps, so you have a great point.

  5. All of this “nullification” talk misses the crucial test, and that test is constitutionality. A state obviously may not negate federal laws that are passed pursuant to a constitutional mandate; the obvious example is immigration, since we have a definite external border that Congress has the responsibility to defend, but not interior borders that may not be passed.

    But supposed a state wants to do its own thing on a question the federal government has no constitutional mandate for? Suppose D.C. decided that public schools should be “gun-free zones,” but since there’s nothing at all about schools or education in the constitution, they’ve no power to dictate such a thing; can states and localities and districts defy Washington?

    • But they do have the right, as provided by the 10th amendment, the catch-all allowing states to cover that which the fed doesn’t.

    • Suppose D.C. decided that public schools should be “gun-free zones,” but
      since there’s nothing at all about schools or education in the

      There is something about how “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.

  6. Not the first place have seen arguing for repeal of the 17th amendment, but a hardy endorsement and one I am inclined to support. Having as their soul reason for incumbency and the job to represent their states best interests rather than their own self interest would be a small step in the right direction, term limits would be a bigger better step, as well, not instead. If you want to drain the swamp it needs be made less accommodating to murk.

    • Actually if the states appointed Senators as designed in the Constitution, you would have built in term limits. When a state goes from Democrat to Republican or the other way, the new state governor would be permitted to appoint a new Senator on the expiration of the Senators current term.

  7. CALEXIT cannot happen soon enough. Once we cut loose the parasitic state, they can elect/govern themselves into Venezuela status.

    • Sounds good in theory, but the lost of valuable coast line with active shipping ports would be a substantial loss. What about the military bases in So. Cal?

      • “What about the military bases in So. Cal?”

        We would no longer be able to resist an invasion from Tijuana?

      • Move them to Texas or Louisiana or Florida… we have a large coast.

        In fact given that Kalifornia no longer wants to abide by Federal laws, we should shut down those bases anyway. Let those federal dollars go to a state where it is a part of the union and not an asylum.

      • Do you think anyone would die to keep California in the Union? I don’t.

        Let them go, we’ll all be better off not shackled to the corpse that California has become and that is what’s important.

    • Move the population to Mexico, keep the real estate. Do you want Chinese military bases with 1,500 miles of border to guard?

    • Why should we give up their deep water ports and abundant crops?Send in the 82nd and arrest or kill all officials

  8. How funny that Senator Dianne Feinstein testified before the Senate Judiciary Com. in 1995 that California was “an immigration disaster” and begged for more border protection. Seems Dems will betray their own common sense for power.

  9. California should be allowed to secede. Those areas wishing to remain in the U.S. can then secede from independent California. The principle here is not Lincoln’s will to maintain the Union, but the Declaration’s statement that political bonds can be dissolved.

    The only way things like the 17th Amendment get repealed is tossing 10 million leftists and 10 million illegals out of the country.

    • We should do a package deal. California can break-up into separate states (South California and Jefferson) and South California can then succeed and Jefferson can take it’s place in Washington.

      The sooner the better.

      • Be cheaper if the northern part took the name “Northern California” and the south called itself “the People Republic of California”.

        Then when we re-integrated Northern California back into the union they could drop the Northern part and we wouldn’t have to re-write as much.

  10. Aiding and abetting criminals – arrest the Oakland Mayor!

  11. As a result of the 17th Amendment, the fight against the laws of the federal government is, shamefully, being led by senior Democratic senators…

    The majority of Republicans in the Senate are openly on the side of open-borders and globalism, and against small-r “republicanism”.

    This is not a problem which was created by the 17th Amendment and it cannot be solved by repealing it. Making US Senators electable by their state legislatures instead of the voters in their states will result in a US Senate which is even more solidly in the grip of corporate interests and even more contemptuous of the average voter in the states they nominally represent.

  12. Among the State of Jefferson counties that want to separate from California, there are several who have made County declarations that they are NOT sanctuaries and will NOT follow California’s descent into madness.

  13. Lincoln wasn’t talking about state nullification of federal laws in that speech.

  14. Jeepers, the Venezuelaization of America is well underway. Let Cali secede. Then put tariffs on all imports and exports to/from Cali to pay for the Cali/Mexico Wall. Problem solved.

  15. Repealing the 17th amendment would be wonderful but a very long shot. Other items on my Article 5 Convention wish list include a Sunset Amendment (all laws, regulations and exective orders automatically expire after 2 years), Congressional Term Limits Amendment (max. 12 years in House/Senate combined) and the Civil Parasite Reform Amendment (length of employment in Federal government, whether directly or as a consultant or contractor, not to exceed 10 years; compensation limited to base compensation – no pensions). A boy can dream, can’t he?

  16. Schaaf tipped off a prized constituency in advance, not once but twice
    That’s called felony obstruction of justice.
    Why no arrest?

    • Arrest is only for the little people. There will be an “investigation” after which a declaration will be made that “no reasonable prosecutor would charge her.”

  17. Then why didn’t Sessions arrest that mayor today.He was there.A lawsuit is a surrender

  18. I really don’t see why all the pols in Cali who are obstructing justice with their conspiracy to nullify federal immigration law are not simply arrested, tried for conspiracy, convicted, and sent to Leavenworth to break rocks.

  19. I wish Snoozy McSessions would start arresting politicians in Cali and shipping them all off to Leavenworth for bail hearings.

    • You’re a softie. What the bastards deserve are unfriendly visits from Delta and SEAL Team 6.

  20. The Demonic Rat Party was taken over by Marxist revolutionaries. For nihilists such as they, politics is not about people trying to settle disputes peacefully, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, etc. For them, politics is about establishing their totalitarian rule over subdued people, and exercising great authority upon them, and, because they are nihilists, eventually annihilating them. For them, politics is only war by other means. What amazes me is how long it’s taken for all you maroons to figure it out. I figured it out to a large extent 47 years ago when I was 12 years old, when the Demonic Rats weren’t nearly as psychotic as they are now.

    Matthew 20:
    25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
    26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
    27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: