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Not Guilty: The Power of Nullification to Counteract Government Tyranny

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"The people have the power, all we have to do is awaken that power in the people. The people are unaware. They're not educated to realize that they have power. The system is so geared that everyone believes the government will fix everything. We are the government."--John Lennon

How do you balance the scales of justice at a time when Americans are being tasered, tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, hit with batons, shot with rubber bullets and real bullets, blasted with sound cannons, detained in cages and kennels, sicced by police dogs, arrested and jailed for challenging the government's excesses, abuses and power-grabs?

Politics won't fix a system that is broken beyond repair.

No matter who sits in the White House, the shadow government will continue to call the shots behind the scenes.

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Relying on the courts to restore justice seems futile.

Indeed, with every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts, largely lacking in vision and scope, rendering narrow rulings focused on the letter of the law. This is true at all levels of the judiciary, but especially so in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is seemingly more concerned with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Even so, justice matters.

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It matters whether you're a rancher protesting a federal land-grab by the Bureau of Land Management, a Native American protesting an oil pipeline that will endanger sacred sites and pollute water supplies, or an African-American taking to the streets to protest yet another police shooting of an unarmed citizen.

Unfortunately, protests and populist movements haven't done much to push back against an authoritarian regime that is deaf to our cries, dumb to our troubles, blind to our needs, and accountable to no one.

It doesn't matter who the activists are (environmentalists, peaceniks, Native Americans, Black Lives Matter, Occupy, or the Bundys and their followers) or what the source of the discontent is (endless wars abroad, police shootings, contaminated drinking water, government land-grabs), the government's modus operandi has remained the same: shut down the protests using all means available, prosecute First Amendment activities to the fullest extent of the law, and discourage any future civil uprisings by criminalizing expressive activities, labelling dissidents as extremists or terrorists, and conducting widespread surveillance on the general populace in order to put down any whispers of resistance before it can take root.

Thus, if there is any means left to us for thwarting the government in its relentless march towards outright dictatorship, it may rest with the power of juries and local governments to invalidate governmental laws, tactics and policies that are illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

Just recently, in fact, an Oregon jury rejected the government's attempts to prosecute seven activists who staged a six-week, armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

In finding the defendants not guilty--of conspiracy to impede federal officers, of possession of firearms in a federal facility, and of stealing a government-owned truck--the jury sent its own message to the government and those following the case: justice matters.

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Many other equally sincere activists with eloquent lawyers and ardent supporters have gone to jail for lesser offenses than those committed at the Malheur Refuge, so what made the difference here?

The jury made all the difference.

These seven Oregon protesters were found not guilty because a jury of their peers recognized the sincerity of their convictions, sympathized with the complaints against an overreaching government, and balanced the scales of justice using the only tools available to them: common sense, compassion and the power of the jury box.

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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