A few weeks ago I nattered on about a group of dimwit sheriffs who hold a rather flawed understanding of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (their understanding of the Supremacy Clause, essentially, is this: What? There’s a Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution?). When I wrote about them, these folks claimed to have more than sixty county sheriffs who supported the belief that they are the final arbiters of the law in their county. Now they claim there are more than 200 sheriffs who support that position.
An organization called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association recently held their first conference (in Las Vegas, of course, because where else would ultra right wing Christianists hold a meeting?). The CSPOA conference was organized by this jamoke:
That’s Richard Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona (population: 37,220). Mack was the National Rifle Association Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 1994; he’s been inducted into the NRA Hall of Fame. He’s also the author of From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns and THE NAKED SPY: His Mission Began the Day He Died.
The CSPOA conference was sponsored by the Gun Owners of America, the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, and the John Birch Society. And before you ask, I swear I’m not making that up — it was sponsored by the fucking John Birch Society. The folks best known for claiming the fluoridation of drinking water was a communist plot, the folks who claimed President Eisenhower was a “communist tool.”
But be assured, former-sheriff Mack also has support from equally reputable sources. Like has-been, draft dodging rock musicians with tendencies toward pedophilia.
The purpose of the CSPOA conference was to instruct county law enforcement officers about their alleged constitutional powers. They maintain the Constitution of the United States and the 10th Amendment grant sheriffs supreme law enforcement power within their counties. This, by the way, is the 10th Amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
According to former-sheriff Mack and his lunatic companions of the CSPOA, the Constitution essentially limits federal law enforcement powers to policing matters of treason, piracy, treaty violations and counterfeiting. That’s it — counterfeiters, traitors and pirates, that’s all the Feds can do. Therefore, the 10th Amendment necessarily confers all primary law enforcement power on the county sheriff. Seriously, that’s their claim. I’m not making this up. The CSPOA folks maintain the following:
The sheriff’s position overrides any federal agents or even the arrogant FBI agents who attempt to assume jurisdiction in our cases.
Yes, they claim the locally elected sheriff has more authority than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They can only believe that if they ignore that pesky Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. That clause prevents States (and therefore the individual counties of those States) from enforcing their local laws in a way that interferes with federal law. That’s why it’s illegal to own a bazooka in, say, Big Horn County, Wyoming.
Sheriff Dave Mattis, who just happens to be from Big Horn County, Wyoming (population: 11,668), attended the CSPOA conference. He told the other attendees that he’s issued an edict (an edict!) forbidding Federal agents from entering Big Horn County without his approval. Not only that, Mattis also told the conference the Wyoming District Court agreed with him.
But the court didn’t actually agree with him. In fact, after they learned of Mattis’ claim, the Wyoming District Court issued a statement (and note the court wouldn’t even agree that Mattis issued an edict; they dismissed it as a mere policy and even then they even put policy in quotes — that’s a tough court):
Big Horn County Sheriff, David M. Mattis, issued a “Policy.” In the “Policy,” the Sheriff purports to impose conditions upon federal law enforcement operations in the County. We have learned that it has been reported, erroneously, that the court made a legal ruling in the Castaneda case regarding the authority of federal law enforcement officials to conduct operations in the County. There was no such ruling or decision.
This Court has never issued an order which would serve to limit the lawful activities and duties of federal law enforcement officers and other federal employees in the District of Wyoming. Furthermore, this Court has never made the comments attributed to it which purports to advise state officers they can prohibit federal law enforcement officers or agents from entering a Wyoming County. Those alleged quotations are utterly false.
Any person who interferes with federal officers in performance of their duties subjects themselves to the risk of criminal prosecution.
In less legalistic terms, the court is saying Big Horn County Sheriff Dave Mattis is full of shit. So is Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Kentucky (population: 13,494). Peyman held a news conference in which he said this:
I am the highest elected official in this county…I can ask federal people to leave, they have to leave. I can ask state people to leave, they have to leave. [I]t doesn’t matter what [new laws] Obama passes, the sheriff has more power than the federal people.
It probably ought to be noted, though, that due to Sheriff Peyman’s misuse of county funds (County judge William Smith says the Sheriff’s Department owes the county nearly $300,000) county officials have formed an alternate Jackson County Police Department comprised of Peyman’s former deputies. Sheriff Peyman is now the entire Jackson County Sheriff’s Department; his staff is gone, his policing duties are gone, and he has nothing to do but call dimwitted news conferences. The FBI has apparently been called in to investigate the case. I guess Peyman forgot to ask them to leave.
Despite what these dimwitted sheriffs say, the law on this matter is pretty clear. Federal officers can’t be subjected to state criminal sanctions for carrying out their appointed duties. It doesn’t mean federal agents are above the law; but it does mean no dimwit sheriff can prevent them from fulfilling their lawful duty just because that dimwit sheriff disagrees with the laws written by Congress.
But don’t be too hard on these sheriffs for being dimwitted or telling lies. Lying seems to be part and parcel of the CSPOA approach. Earlier I mentioned that the organization is claiming to have more than 200 sheriffs as members. The operative term there is claiming. I noticed one of the sheriffs listed as members is Bill McCarthy, the sheriff of Polk County, Iowa.
I live in Polk County. I voted for Sheriff McCarthy. I based my vote on comments he made during a debate. McCarthy actually brought up the subject of the so-called constitutional sheriffs movement. His opponent in the election had demanded he join the Oath Keepers — another group of law enforcement officers who believe they get to define the Constitution. This is what McCarthy said:
“I had him and others come in my office and demand that I sign an Oath Keepers promise which is a sign that you support the Constitution. That would be the last thing I’d ever do is sign a Constitution for people like that. I took an oath when I joined the Marine Corps. I took an oath that caused me to do two terms in Vietnam. I took an oath in 69 when I joined the Sheriff’s office, and again in 70 with the Police Department, and then again when I was elected Sheriff. I’m not taking an oath for people who define ‘We the People’ [as those] who look exactly like them and think exactly like them.”
McCarthy won with nearly 60% of the vote. He’s not a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Claiming him as a member is a lie. But that’s how groups like the CSPOA operate.
Trial lawyers have a maxim: When the facts are against you, bang on the law; when the law is against you, bang on the facts; when both the law and the facts are against you, bang on the table.
These dimwits are banging on the table. They hope that by banging loudly enough, it’ll distract folks from the facts and the law. But the fact is, nobody in the government is planning to confiscate everybody’s guns. But there’s a chance the laws will change to require some minimal restrictions on firearms. If the law changes, all law enforcement officers — including sheriffs — will have a duty to uphold it.
Then former sheriff Richard Mack can resume his badly neglected writing career.