On Sagebrush Rebellions and State Sovereignty


The longstanding conflict between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently erupted into the news, as the BLM enforces a Federal court order ordering the removal of Bundy’s cattle from his ancestral grazing lands, over which the BLM claims management authority.  I have not tried to analyze all the legal issues at play here, but the heart of the matter is apparently a conflict between the Federal Endangered Species Act and Bundy’s private property rights.  In short, Federal power against private property.

Most modern State Attorneys General would not deign to involve themselves in a conflict between Federal power and private property, especially if the Federal actors are acting under the authority of a Federal court order.  I see the proper role of a State Attorney General differently.

In the U.S. constitutional system, there is no effective check against expansion of Federal power except for State power and the power of the masses to ignore Federal edicts — as explicitly reserved by  the Tenth amendment.  Under natural law, private property rights arise out of local activities, and one of the key justifications for State power is to support institutions for orderly recording, protection, and disposition of real property rights within its borders.  Any Federal property claims that are not enforced through the State’s own courts are by definition foreign and antagonistic to State sovereignty.  Therefore, as the top law officer of the State, the Attorney General is obligated to check and balance any independent assertion of property rights within its borders, whether by the Federal government or any other foreign sovereign power.

That does not necessarily mean that the Attorney General should order officers to intervene in Federal enforcement actions, guns blazing.  I do not advocate for civil war.  But neither does it mean that the Attorney General should roll over and allow Federal agencies to enforce their own property claims within the State without any check or balance provided by State power.

Enforcement actions such as the BLM’s highly public thieving and wasting of Bundy’s cattle are both unseemly and unnecessary.  Such naked displays of aggression undermine public confidence in State sovereignty and property laws, besides inflaming public anger and feeding contempt for governments generally.  It is in the interests of both the general public and government at all levels to prevent such incidents from occurring.

State intervention against Federal trespass of State-based property rights should begin in the courtroom, extend through the public police agencies, and absent the direst of circumstances, should never involve violent confrontations between groups of State and Federal officials.  For example, the State should seek to intervene on the side of property holders in selected cases enforcing Federal power against property interests of State residents, train State officers regarding proper and effective means for protecting private property rights within the State against Federal claims, deprive Federal agencies who seek to take property without State authority of the benefit of using any State resources in support of their enforcement actions, and promote public understanding and support for private property rights based in natural law.  If elected, I would seek to allocate a reasonable portion of the resources at my disposal towards fulfilling these and similar objectives.

Posted in News & Views, Preventing Wrongful Aggression