Since Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, the sanctuary movement has gained prominence as a form of resistance to federal immigration policy. Sanctuary cities and states have attempted to frustrate the Trump administration’s immigration agenda by refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) efforts to remove aliens illegally residing in the United States. Academics, pundits and politicians have compared this resistance and non-cooperation to “nullification,” a doctrine typically associated with the South Carolina Nullification Crisis of the 1830s and the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
This article rejects comparisons between the sanctuary movement and nullification as false equivalencies and explains why the sanctuary movement is not a form of modern nullification. Rather, it suggests the movement is better understood as being similar to “interposition”—a doctrine related to, but distinct from, nullification. In doing so, this paper will clarify the meaning of nullification and interposition by analyzing the developments of these doctrines. Part 1 of this article discusses the historical, theoretical and practical aspects of South Carolina-style nullification, and compares these to that of the sanctuary movement. Part 2 explores the development of nullification and interposition more broadly, with a particular focus on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. Finally, Part 3 directly compares the sanctuary movement, nullification and interposition, and it connects the movement to the “anti-commandeering” doctrine articulated by the Supreme Court in the 1990s.