By Tate Fegley
Recently, Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney wrote in the Idaho Statesman an explanation of his plans to obey any federal law regarding gun control, since this is what he believes his constitutional oath requires. There are several problems with his statement, both logical and historical. Here are some excerpts (italicized, below) from the Sheriff’s statement, followed by my replies.
[D]espite the fact that I personally oppose some of the gun control measures currently under consideration, my oath requires me to uphold the laws that are passed by our federal and state representatives.
When we disagree with those laws, the checks and balances built into our government point us toward the proper remedy: changing the laws or challenging them in the judicial branch. As to whether or not the president has the power to issue executive orders limiting our Constitutional rights, that is another matter to be decided by the Supreme Court, not by 44 different sheriffs in Idaho.
For all his talk about how seriously he takes his constitutional oath, there is little evidence that he has read the document itself. The Constitution lists the powers of the Congress in Article I, Section 8. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights spells out certain things which the federal government is prohibited from doing (although, when drafted, it was argued that they were unnecessary since Article I, Section 8 doesn’t give Congress the power to make laws regarding the freedom of speech, press, etc.). If Congress makes laws contradicting these restrictions, they are null and void. Obviously, laws can’t declare themselves to be null and void – hence the attempt to construct checks and balances. Checks and balances are supposed to be endogenous to the system of government.
Clearly Raney’s first proposed method doesn’t meet this criteria. What is the point of even having constitutional restrictions if Congress can pass any law it desires and the way to change it is to get that Congress to repeal such a law? Neither does his second, since very few people have the expertise or means to successfully challenge laws before the federal courts. Either way, the implication is that we must beg the federal government to follow the Constitution. Does Raney really believe that this is the best the Framers could come up with? In addition, Raney outright acknowledges that the president’s executive orders infringe on Constitutional protections. But here he betrays a downright ignorance of the American system of government: law making resides with the Congress, not the Executive.
Further, the Constitution does not say, “The Supreme Court can decide what is constitutional based on how they feel this week and not what the Constitution actually says.” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison held that state officials have both the right and the duty to interpret the Constitution for themselves. So despite Raney’s wishful thinking, the 44 sheriffs in Idaho have every right to decide if Obama’s executive orders are unconstitutional. Ultimately, Sheriff Raney’s inaccurate view renders the real checks and balances of the Founders ineffective.
I did not swear to uphold just part of the Constitution. Our Constitution includes the right to keep and bear arms, but it also includes the “supremacy clause” that says that every state shall abide by the laws passed by our Congress.
Raney seems to have forgotten (if he indeed has ever known it) the most important phrase of the Supremacy Clause, which states that the laws of the United States have to be made in pursuance of the Constitution. Obviously federal laws that infringe on constitutional protections are NOT made in pursuance of it.
Many others have indulged that pressure and now we see Oregon sheriffs, Wyoming legislators and others making hollow promises to protect you from the intrusions of the federal government. Let me respectfully remind you that we are the federal government, the state government and the local government.
When the sheriff says “we” in this context, I can only assume he is talking about all of us. But such an idea is silly. If “we” are the federal government, why are we worried that we are going to take our own rights away? It is not the case that anyone comes upon this idea that “we are the government” independently. It has to be drilled into us through constant propaganda, like what the Sheriff is providing here. Let me respectfully remind the sheriff that everything the government does is by force. It is patently absurd that “we” have to elect “ourselves” to force us to do things we would rather not do.
Hollow promises and threats will only divert people from doing the right thing — honoring the truth and being involved in a process whereby our rights and liberties are protected by a respect of the law, not by rhetoric.
If any rhetoric is hollow, it is what is written above by Sheriff Raney. What does respect for the law mean if the federal government can repeal our rights at any time? What is the point of even having state governments if they are simply to be like provinces ultimately run by the federal government? What is the point of electing a sheriff if he does only what the federal government wants, rather than what the people who elected him want? When it comes down to it, what Sheriff Raney is saying totally contradicts the idea of self-governance: he says people in individual counties cannot decide how they want to live; nine people in black robes who live over two thousand miles away get to do that for us and 300 million other people.
Sheriff Raney isn’t upholding the Constitution; he is upholding the unconstitutional whims of the federal government.