1956 February 29

Mississippi Votes for “Interposition” to Fight Civil Rights


The Mississippi legislature on this day unanimously adopted an “interposition” resolution that declared “invalid” the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled racially segregated schools unconstitutional. After the resolution was passed, members of the House of Representatives stood and sang Dixie.

Interposition is a legal theory that was advanced in Southern states before the Civil War, holding that states would “interpose” their authority between themselves and the federal government. A related theory was “nullification,” which held that states could nullify federal laws and court decisions. In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Martin Luther King referred to segregationists with their “lips dripping with nullification and interposition.” By the time Mississippi passed its resolution, similar resolutions had been passed in Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and South Carolina. The doctrines of nullification and interposition, however, had little effect on the course of the civil rights movement. On September 12, 1958, in Cooper v. Aaron, arising out of the Little Rock, Arkansas, school integration crisis, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution and orders of federal courts are the supreme law of the land.

Decades later, under President Barack Obama, right-wingers brought up the discredited issues of nullification and interposition to express their opposition to his policies as president (see below). Most of the attacks using these concepts were purely political rhetoric, and there were no significant actions designed to implement them.

Learn more: Richard Ellis, The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights, and the Nullification Crisis (1989)

Read about the more recent right-wing revival of “nullification”: Thomas Woods, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century (2010)

See, for example, the attempt to use “nullification” against federal gun laws: http://www.propublica.org/article/nullification-how-states-are-making-it-a-felony-to-enforce-federal-gun-laws

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