Layin the Sarwark Down: Nullification Expert Mike Maharrey Pile-Drives Libertarian Chair on “States’ Rights”

One of the many contentious issues in the libertarian community is the notion of “States’ Rights.” There is confusion over what the term means and how it pertains to the liberty movement as a whole. A recent exchange between Mike Maharrey, Communications Director of the Tenth Amendment Center, and Nicholas Sarwark, Chairman of the Libertarian Party, has shed a little light on the controversy.

Both men appeared on the Lions of Liberty Podcast and gave their perspective. Sarwark appeared last month, and gave comments criticizing Ron Paul for championing the idea of states’ rights as a Congressman and Presidential candidate. Sarwark said:

“He had policy prescriptions that were straight-up wrong and anti-libertarian…None of us should be given a pass on having to have actual libertarian positions, or not be able to be called out when you say you oppose marriage equality. You know, that’s not a libertarian position to have. State’s rights is not a libertarian position, and it’s something Ron Paul had pushed for a long time.”

Maharrey published a response at the Tenth Amendment Center that gave a different perspective than Sarwark’s. As the debate raged on social media, the Lions of Liberty podcast invited Mike Maharrey on to give an official rebuttal to Sarwark’s perspective. The interview was released Monday.

Maharrey, describing himself as very close to anarcho-capitalist, addressed the confusion regarding states’ rights and common libertarian objections on the program. Maharrey understood that the term is not the most accurate description for the valid concept. He gave a more precise definition of states’ rights to clarify misconceptions by saying, “The state has a right to exercise certain powers and to take certain authorities constitutionally without federal interference.”

While states can certainly take measures to restrict liberty, they can make moves to subvert federal authority and break up centralized power as well. In the Trump-era, states can take lawful measures to stop illegal spying, deny federal military transfers to police, or make immigration enforcement more difficult. In the Obama era, states took measures against Common Core, Obamacare, EPA regulations and other restrictive aspects of his agenda. This is how federalism was intended to work.

“The bigger the government is, the more powerful it is, the more authority it wields, the more people it has control over, the more dangerous it is for liberty,” Maharrey said. Maharrey frames the idea behind the modern states’ rights movement as simply not wanting a monopoly in government. He wants to give the people options, and more escape paths from government overreach.

“Decentralizing for Peace and Freedom” is Maharrey’s credo, and the Tenth Amendment Center has grown exponentially while not bending an inch on principle. The organization has risen from a simple blog started by founder and executive director Michael Boldin to a national policy center responsible for reviving a critical but antiquated idea and making it relevant for the 21st Century. Maharrey warns against libertarians enabling federal power-grabs, no matter what the justification.

“When you start allowing the federal government to do things like regulate marriage that it was never intended to do, you are undermining the entire system,” Maharrey said.

Calling for the federal government to regulate marriage, even if well-intended, sets a dangerous precedent for the federal government to make more illegal usurpations of power down the line. Maharrey even pointed out that this type of methodology has backfired mightily on the big government progressives who have championed it for at least the past eight years.

“I don’t have any sympathy for [progressives] because they spent the last eight years cheerleading Barack Obama as he took all this unconstitutional executive authority, and this is what you get… It’s Donald Trump’s pen-and-phone now,” Maharrey said.

“Libertarians have a tendency to do the same thing when it comes to the Bill of Rights… It’s this desire to use centralized authority to impose liberty,” Maharrey said. “And I just find that a little bit creepy. I find it very very dangerous, and it doesn’t fit into the Constitutional system.”

The motto for the Tenth Amendment Center is “The Constitution. Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses.” Libertarians like Sarwark would rather nitpick the Constitution, and use their own subjective framework when promoting the cause of liberty. Instead of relying on firm, timeless, bedrock principles, these misguided libertarians opt to make compromises and cut deals. It was those compromises and deals that gave us Johnson/Weld as the Libertarian Presidential ticket last year, and embarrassed the cause to a captive audience of millions.

The Tenth Amendment Center boasts huge victories on marijuana, Right to Try, privacy measures, asset forfeiture, raw milk, and even sound money. With the ideas of states’ rights and nullification being revived, legislators are now taking initiative themselves. There are so many active bills that the Tenth Amendment Center can’t even track them all! This success wasn’t achieved through a political cult of personality. It wasn’t achieved by adopting liberal-ish rhetoric on social issues. It was achieved by following the example of the Founding Fathers, and taking clever proactive measures to actually defend freedom in the real world.

I do not think it is a stretch to say that Maharrey laid the Sarwark down in this exchange. It should be clear to libertarian activists out there that methodology and consistency do matter. When those precepts go out the door, catastrophes like Johnson/Weld 2016 happen. That abortion happened on Chairman Sarwark’s watch. To stop any more situations like Johnson/Weld from happening in the years to come, listen to the states’ rights advocates and not the partisan political hacks!


  1. That’s all very fine; but I notice that Maharrey said very little about the actual point at issue (or, if he did, it went unreported): are there individual rights which the Constitution (as currently amended) prevents state governments from violating, and by which the Supreme Court can invalidate state and local laws just as it can invalidate federal ones? It sounds as if Maharrey’s saying that no, there aren’t, when he talks about “federal regulation of marriage” (which sounds like a reference to Obergefell v. Hodges), but that’s not clear at all. So what, if anything, did Maharrey say about that?

    And, BTW, what are those secret “deals” Johnson and Weld are supposed to have made (with whom?) to take the LP nomination (from whom?). They may be common knowledge to Trejo, but they certainly aren’t to those of us who follow LP politics: so I wish he’d said what he knows about them rather than just hinting around.

  2. Restricting/reducing central state coercion is the prime issue and expanding/restoring state sovereignty is a key means to limit central power. Using the expediency of federal power to impose “good stuff” on state governments, by far closer to the people, is not in the least libertarian. It is short-sighted. Go you locals, convince the body politic in your state of the “right” policy. Duh. The end (gay marriage or whatever) does not justify the (federal) means, the use of proper means is the end. And long run, restoring the federal republic is vastly better than the unitary state created and honed by Hamilton, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, etc., since a voluntarist society/anarcho capitalism is a bridge too far (for the foreseeable future).

  3. Using the Constitution to stop state violations of individual rights is “not in the least libertarian”? That’s certainly a — different — conception of ‘libertarian’ from the common understanding. In fact, if I were to adopt your guys’ rhetoric, I’d say it’s not libertarian at all. Laws banning interracial marriage (Loving vs. Virginia), or the sale of contraceptives (Griswold vs. Connecticut) or guns (Macdonald vs. Chicago), or consensual sex in one’s home (Lawrence vs. Texas) restrict liberty just as much no matter which level of government adopted them: and if the Supreme Court throws them out as unconstitutional, that’s a step forward for liberty.

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