by Diane Rufino, January 25, 2018
The word Interposition means “to place between; cause to intervene.” In the context of the Constitution and the system of government it has established in this country, interposition is the doctrine that says that an individual State may oppose any federal action it believes encroaches on its sovereignty. It is a doctrine tied to the Tenth Amendment. The Tenth Amendment, as we all know, is a restatement of the fact that government power is split between two sovereigns, the federal government and the individual States. The Constitution establishes a horizontal separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the federal level. By the very nature of its limited grants of delegated powers to those branches, the Constitution also establishes a vertical separation of powers between the federal government and the State governments. By “vertical,” we mean that the federal and State governments are co-equal sovereigns. The Tenth Amendment is a restatement of the fact that the Union is not a consolidated one with unlimited power at the federal level but rather a federation of sovereign states with most of the day-to-day running of people’s lives and governing of communities being reserved to the States and the powers to regulate for safety and security, immigration, commerce, and currency being delegated to the common government. Dual Sovereignty. The Tenth Amendment, quite simply, 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.”
Since the Tenth Amendment cannot enforce itself, interposition is one of the doctrines that allows the States and the People to stand up for the rights that are reserved to them. Right now, the federal government has a monopoly over the meaning and scope of its powers. Congress makes the laws, the president signs the laws and enforces then, and the courts review them for constitutionality. It wasn’t always this way. The federal courts were originally only supposed to render an “opinion” to the other branches. They were to take that opinion under advisement and amend the particular law or alter their conduct. The “check” that the “opinion” offered was that it was public; once the States found out the opinion, as sovereigns and as the co-parties to the compact known as the US Constitution, they always had the option to nullify and refuse to enforce a law or policy that the court deemed as unconstitutional. But the judicial branch made sure that its power was much more substantial than rendering a mere opinion. The federal monopoly was established when Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the Marbury v. Madison opinion in 1803. Essentially the decision asserts that the Supreme Court is the tribunal tasked with interpreting the Constitution and as such, it’s “opinions” are not really “opinions” at all but binding decisions. Whatever the men in robes decide is the meaning and the intent of the Constitution IS the meaning and intent and its decisions are final and binding.
But rights and liberties are never secure when men and women have the power to interpret while also being motivated by political opinions, personal passions, etc. The Tenth Amendment MUST not be left to the federal government monopoly to ignore or re-interpret as it sees fit.
The remedy always available to those who hold the reserved powers is interposition – to recognize that certain acts are unconstitutional and exceed delegated powers (and hence are null and void and legally unenforceable) and then to take the necessary steps to make sure that they are NOT enforced. To allow them to be enforced is allowing government usurpation.
I. Interposition: Its Roots in the Magna Carta –
Interposition is a doctrine that the federal government abhors. Arizona tried to interpose in 2010 or so when it was fed up with the fact that the Obama administration refused to enforce immigration laws and the State was being overly burdened by illegal immigration. It passed a law giving its state law enforcement powers to determine which immigrants were undocumented and to require employers to do the same in the hiring process (e-verify). The Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer interposed for the benefit of their citizens and for the proper functioning of the State. Quickly, however, Obama sued the State. How dare it interpose.
Where did this doctrine come from???
It has its roots in the Great English Charter itself – the Magna Carta, signed in the year 1215 by King John to formally recognize the “rights” recognized by ancient tradition and custom of the barons and other lower-class Englishmen. (Remember, this was Medieval England, the era of serfdom)
At the end of the Charter, the English barons included a section providing for the enforcement of its provisions. Section 61 read:
“Since, moveover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, desirous that they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance forever, we give and grant to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five and twenty barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in anything be at fault towards anyone, or shall have broken any one of the articles of this peace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of the foresaid five and twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us (or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if we shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of the realm, if our justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days, reckoning from the time it has been intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if we should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matter to the rest of the five and twenty barons, and those five and twenty barons shall, together with the community of the whole realm, distrain and distress us in all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person, and the persons of our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations towards us.”
Put simply, Section 61 established a representative group of 25 barons, to be selected as they see fit, who would be tasked with the responsibility of making sure that the promises made by King John when he signed the Charter are kept, even at the point of rebellion against him. This group of 25 “shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter.”
In other words, because the King may eventually ignore the promises he made, those who hold the rights and liberties have the right to decide when they’ve violated and then to take any and all steps to make sure that such violation is remedied.
I would argue that inherent in any compact that protects individual rights is the right of those who hold those rights to decide when they’ve been violated and then to take any and all steps to make sure that such violation is remedied.
I would also argue that in any social compact where government power is delegated and powers are reserved, that each party (the one receiving the delegated power and the ones holing the reserved powers) has the right to prevent the other from taking what is legally theirs. This doctrine therefore applies to the Constitution, itself being a social compact.
How did the Magna Carta come about?
II. The History – The Meeting at Runnymede and The Story of King John and the Magna Carta [Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2001. Referenced at: http://www.crf-usa.org/foundations-of-our-constitution/magna-carta.html ]
A. Who Was King John?
Myth and history are intertwined in the England of 800 years ago. We all remember the outlaw, Robin Hood. From his hideout in Sherwood Forest, he and his band of Merry Men preyed on the rich and gave to the poor. Their archenemy was the Sheriff of Nottingham, who took his orders from the sinister Prince John. While Robin Hood never existed, John certainly did. He was the central character in a real life drama that led to a milestone in human liberty: Magna Carta. Prince John’s older brother, Richard, became king of England when their father, Henry II, died in 1189. King Richard I (also called Richard the Lionhearted) spent almost the entire 10 years of his reign away from England. He fought in tournaments, led crusades and waged several wars on the continent of Europe.
Since Richard needed revenue to pay for his adventures, he taxed his subjects heavily. At one point Richard was captured by his enemies and held for ransom (a common practice in feudal Europe). Richard’s tax collectors in England had to raise an enormous sum of money to free him. Despite Richard’s demands, the people back home in England loved him as a conquering hero.
When Richard died in 1199, John became King. Unlike his brother, John tended to stay at home and run his kingdom on a day to day basis. John, however, continued his brother’s harsh tax policy. Because John lacked Richard’s heroic image and charisma, his subjects began to hate him for his constant demands for more tax money
B. King John vs. The Church –
King John made more enemies when he refused to accept the appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, the most important position in the English Catholic Church. By so doing, John challenged the authority of Pope Innocent III in Rome, who punished John by excommunication. John retaliated by taxing the Church in England, confiscating its lands and forcing many priests to leave their parishes.
While King John carried on his dispute with the Pope, powerful English landowners called barons conspired against him. Fuming over John’s heavy taxes and other abuses of power, the barons plotted rebellion. To head them off, King John made an unexpected move.
In 1212, King John agreed to have Stephen Langton become Archbishop of Canterbury. John also promised to compensate the Church for its money and lands. John even went so far as to make England a fief of the Pope. King John still ruled England, but, as John’s liege lord, the Pope gained tremendous prestige throughout Europe. Pope Innocent was delighted and in 1213 ended John’s excommunication. With John now under the protection of the Church, the resentful barons retreated—at least for a while.
C. King John vs. the Barons —
Convinced that his throne was again safe, King John returned to one of his favorite projects. For years he had dreamed to retake possession of lands in France that had once belonged to his ancestors. Once before, John had led a military expedition to France. Although he won a number of battles, John failed to decisively defeat the French king. Now, in 1213, John planned another campaign.
An invasion of France required many soldiers and more money. Under feudal law, a liege lord had the right to call upon his vassals to provide knights or money during times of war. From the English barons, all vassals of King John, he demanded men-at-arms or gold to support his new French war. Many of the barons refused, having little interest in John’s quarrel with the French king. Enraged, King John set out to punish them by attacking their castles.
Early in 1214, he abandoned his domestic quarrels and left with a force of loyal barons and mercenaries (paid soldiers) for France. History repeated itself. John succeeded in winning some battles, but failed to gain control of the disputed lands.
D. The Road to Runnymede —
Soon after returning to English soil in October 1214, King John resumed his demand for money from the rebellious barons. His demands fell on deaf ears. Sensing John’s weakness after his failure in France, the barons began to make their own demands. In January 1215, a group of them appeared before King John asking for a written charter from him confirming ancient liberties granted by earlier kings of England. Evidence suggests that the newly appointed Archbishop Stephen Langton may have encouraged these demands.
John decided to stall for time; he would give the barons an answer later in the spring. In the meantime, John sent letters to enlist the support of Pope Innocent III, and also began to assemble a mercenary army.
In April, the barons presented John with more specific demands. John flatly rejected them. He remarked: “Why do not the barons, with these unjust exactions, ask my kingdom?”
In response, the barons withdrew their allegiance to King John, and started to form their own rebel army. At the head of the rebel forces was Robert FitzWalter, who called himself “Marshal of the army of God and Holy Church.” In an effort to cool things off, John proposed that the Pope settle their differences. With the Pope openly siding with King John, the barons refused. John ordered his sheriffs to crush the rebel barons and they retaliated by occupying London.
A stalemate ensued. The 40 or so rebel barons and their forces held London as well as their own fortified castles throughout England. King John commanded a slightly smaller force of loyalist barons and mercenaries. Unaligned were about 100 barons plus a group of church leaders headed by the ever-present Archbishop Stephen Langton. Langton (who was sympathetic to the rebels if not one himself) began to work for a negotiated settlement to prevent all-out civil war and arranged a meeting to be held at Runnymede, a meadow on the Thames west of London.
E. Meeting at Runnymede —
King John and his supporters, the rebel barons, the neutrals, church leaders and Archbishop Langton all met at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Actually, the Charter was negotiated at Runnymede between 10 and 15 June 1215, with King John riding down each day from Windsor, and the barons encamped in their tents across the meadows beside the Thames. Significantly, while most of King John’s fighting men were scattered throughout his kingdom, the rebels appeared at full military strength.
Little is known about the details of this historic meeting, but we do know that King John placed his seal of approval on a document called the “Articles of the Barons.” Over the next few days these articles were rewritten, expanded, and put into the legal language of a royal charter. At some point, probably on June 19, King John put his seal on the final draft of what we call today “Magna Carta” or “The Great Charter.” In exchange, the rebellious barons renewed their oath of allegiance to King John, thus ending the immediate threat of civil war.
With the document, the nobles compelled John to execute this recognition of rights for both noblemen and ordinary Englishmen. The Charter begins with Article 1, which, besides asserting that “the English Church shall be free,” also states: “We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.” Besides recognizing the right of the church to be free from governmental interference, the Magna Carta also recognized the rights of all free citizens to own and inherit property and to be protected from excessive taxes through representation in a “common counsel.” It established the principles of due process and equality before the law, the right to a jury of one’s peers, and the right of widows who owned property to choose not to remarry. It also contained provisions forbidding bribery and official misconduct.
And, as mentioned earlier, it included an enforcement provision: Section 61 read: “61. Since, moveover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, desirous that they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance forever, we give and grant to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five and twenty barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in anything be at fault towards anyone, or shall have broken any one of the articles of this peace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of the foresaid five and twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us (or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if we shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of the realm, if our justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days, reckoning from the time it has been intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if we should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid shall refer that matter to the rest of the five and twenty barons, and those five and twenty barons shall, together with the community of the whole realm, distrain and distress us in all possible ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, until redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person, and the persons of our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old relations towards us.
Tricky to the end, however, King John left off the names of the 25 barons who were to be tasked with the enforcement of the charter’s terms. By doing so, John intended to downplay the enforcement provision and in general hoped the Charter would become no more than a toothless symbol of his generosity to the kingdom.
Magna Carta of 1215 was not really intended to be a list of rights for Englishmen or even the barons themselves. It was more like a contract in which John bound himself to abide by its provisions. The barons only wanted King John to satisfy their complaints against his abusive rule, not overthrow the monarchy. The real significance of this document lies in the basic idea that a ruler, just like everyone else, is subject to the rule of law. When King John agreed to Magna Carta, he admitted that the law was above the king’s will, a revolutionary idea in 1215.
F. Aftermath —
King John surrendered significant power when he agreed to Magna Carta. It is doubtful that he really ever intended to live up to all his promises. Certainly, the barons hoped that its terms would be rigorously enforced. While John did satisfy some of the barons’ personal grievances, he secretly wrote the Pope asking him to cancel Magna Carta on the grounds that he signed it against his will. At the same time he continued to build up his mercenary army. Not trusting John’s intentions, the rebel barons held on to London and maintained their own army.
Pope Innocent III replied favorably to King John’s appeal. He condemned Magna Carta and declared it null and void. By September 1215, King John and his army were roving the countryside attacking the castles of individual barons, but he avoided the rebel stronghold of London. The barons charged that King John had defaulted on his agreement with them and they were justified in removing him from the throne. They offered the throne to the son of the French king, if he would aid their rebellion.
A long and bloody civil war loomed across England, when suddenly, King John died. A round of heavy eating and drinking apparently led to a case of dysentery causing his death on October 18, 1216. Ten days later John’s nine-year-old son, Henry, was crowned as the new king of England. With John out of the way, the conflict gradually ceased. Less than a month after Henry was crowned, his supporters confirmed Magna Carta in his name. This time it received the approval of the Pope.
Magna Carta, carrying with it the idea of “the rule of law,” was reconfirmed a number of times over the next 80 years, becoming a foundation of English law. Eventually, Magna Carta would become the source of important legal concepts found in our American Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among these are the principle of no taxation without representation and the right to a fair trial under law. These foundations of our own constitutional system had their beginnings in a meadow beside a river almost 800 years ago.
As I hope you all remember from school, the Magna Carta was a crucial turning point in the struggle to establish freedom and recognize individual rights. The ancient laws and customs by which England had been governed, and which had been abused by the King, were enumerated most clearly and explicitly on its parchment. His signature, his assent, was demanded by those who refused to be mistreated any longer by him. These ancient laws and customs, defended strongly by those who believed were not to be transgressed by the King, would eventually be thought of as human rights.
The next recorded milestone in the development of these “human rights” would be the Petition of Right, drafted in 1628 by the English Parliament and sent to Charles I as a statement of civil liberties and a reminder of the obligation of Kings to recognize that the throne is not above the law. (See my recent article “The English Roots of American Liberty,” January 20, 2018)
Winston Churchill once admonished the free world to learn to pronounce the word “No.” Summoning the wisdom of Alexander the Great, Churchill, in the face of Nazi aggression, challenged the free world to muster the courage to tell Hitler “no.” In his famous October 16, 1938, broadcast to the United States and England, termed “The Defense of Freedom and Peace: The Lights are Going Out”, Churchill reflected: “Alexander the Great remarked that the people of Asia were slaves because they had not learned to pronounce the word ‘No.’ Let that not be the epitaph of the English-speaking peoples or of Parliamentary democracy, or of France, or of the many surviving liberal States of Europe.”
If we don’t learn to say “NO,” then it may also become the epitaph of the United States.
It takes courage to stand up against a person or a body having great power. It often comes at some personal sacrifice. Our challenge is to stand up as a people, and as individual States, to the government officials, the government bodies, and yes, even federal judges who are violating, ignoring, eroding, or otherwise re-interpreting the Constitution our Bill of Rights. Each unconstitutional act usurps the powers delegated or reserved to the People and the States. Nature’s Law supersedes man’s law. Every failure to resist the tyranny posed by an unconstitutional act tightens the noose around freedom’s neck.
References: The Magna Carta – http://www.constitution.org/eng/magnacar.htm
“The Meeting at Runnymede: The Story of King John and Magna Carta,” 2001, Constitutional Rights Foundation, 601 South Kinglsey Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90005. Referenced at: http://www.crf-usa.org/foundations-of-our-constitution/magna-carta.html [Section II, Parts A, B, C, D,, and F are taken directly from this source. Only a part of Section E comes this source].
Diane Rufino, “The English Roots of American Liberty,” For Love of God and Country (Diane’s blog), January 20, 2018. Referenced at: https://forloveofgodandcountry.com/2018/01/24/the-english-roots-of-american-liberty/
Jason K. Allen, “Pronouncing the Word ‘No’: The Most Important Lesson I Learned from Al Mohler,” Jason Kallen’s Blog, Nov. 9, 2015. Referenced at: https://jasonkallen.com/2015/11/pronouncing-the-word-no/