JBS Bulletin: January 2023

Members in Action

Nullification Works, Even Locally

by Tim Marden, Development Officer

Can nullification work locally? Yes! Nullification is a concept based on the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, whereby a governmental body has a duty and obligation to ignore unconstitutional measures passed by a higher governmental division. We often talk about this related to states not following — or nullifying — federal mandates pursuant to Article VI of the Constitution. But it can extend to lower governmental divisions too.

For nearly 10 years, I have served as an elected city commissioner in Newberry, Florida. Newberry is one of nine incorporated cities in Alachua County, Florida — one of five deep-blue counties in the state. About six months into the Covid conundrum, on a Friday, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners lifted the countywide mask mandates. However, Gainesville city commissioners browbeat the county board with scare tactics during a joint meeting the two bodies convened the following Monday. Afterward, the county reversed its decision — we had the tail wagging the dog. Problem is, none of the other eight cities were at the table for this discussion.

Recognizing the Gainesville City Commission did not represent Newberry citizens, our city commissioners convened an emergency meeting on Wednesday. We passed an emergency proclamation nullifying the new mask mandate. Our primary reason: If the county cannot provide the leadership to give our citizens and businesses more stability in this topsy-turvy time, we were just going to follow Governor DeSantis’ recommendation.

Before the ink even dried, the county board vehemently condemned our city commission’s action. But it was too late. Our message was sent, and our message was received.

Newberry stood out because we stood up. The move gave other cities and citizens confidence to also shed masks. Gainesville residences seeking mask refuge started showing up in our local restaurants and grocery store. Our little 7,000-citizen David town took down the 278,000-citizen county Goliath on this issue.

Fast forward to today. As the newly elected chair of the county Republican Party, I hope to deploy this micro-nullification strategy in a more concerted effort countywide. The overarching strategy would be to help elect good people to other city commissions and effectively nullify additional draconian county regulations and ordinances.