The happy union of these states
“The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.” James Madison, 1829
In my last column, I outlined how the U.S. Constitution came to be written. One of the foundational principles of the Constitution is the supremacy of the federal government over the states. If there is a conflict between federal, state or local law, the federal government has final authority. (Article 6, Clause 2.)
The Nevada Constitution reaffirms this principle. (Nevada Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.) In spite of that, some dissenters claim that the federal government has no jurisdiction over them. Other groups such as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Oath Keepers claim allegiance to the Constitution, but everything they do shows they have no idea what the Constitution actually says. One clue is that the words “sheriff” and “county” aren’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Despite that, these groups claim local sheriffs have jurisdiction over federal officials, resulting in illegal actions such as those by the Bundys.
Cliven Bundy is a southern Nevada rancher who owes over $1 million to the federal government. He was allowed to graze his cattle at a bargain price of $1.35 per Animal Unit Month, subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Private grazing land costs an average of $20.10 per AUM. In 1993, Bundy refused to pay his fees but continued to graze his cattle. His excuse was that the land belongs to “the people,” and should therefore be free. That was also the rationale behind the occupation of the Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by two Bundy sons and their followers. They see the federal government as their enemy.
The federal government already owns all of the land within U.S. boundaries, by purchase or conquest, until it transfers or sells the land. This is affirmed in Article Four, Section 3, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government never “took” land from the states.
Someone who should know this is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who seems willfully ignorant of the land issues here in Nevada. He recently said, “I will fight day and night to return control of Nevada lands to its rightful owners, its citizens.” Again, control of our lands was not “taken” from us; it was freely given to the federal government. (Nevada 1864 Enabling Act, Section 4.) The real motive for those wanting control of Nevada land has nothing to do with freedom. It has everything to do with developers and others who want to use the land for their own profit. Cruz should know better, but he is pandering to Nevada voters. Even if Cruz becomes president, he has no authority to hand federal land over to the states. That would be up to Congress.
A subset of the faulty philosophy that state governments don’t have to follow federal law is the misconceptions about militias, epitomized by movements such as Sovereign Citizens. They believe the federal government is subservient or actually illegitimate, though they idolize the Second Amendment. They ignore what the Constitution itself says about militias. Under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the duties of Congress are spelled out, including organizing, arming, and training militias. The Second Amendment is not about arming people against their own government. It’s to make sure members of the militias aren’t denied the weapons they need. Again, those who claim to honor the Constitution have twisted it to suit their own ends.
One of the people most ignorant about the Constitution is Donald Trump, current Republican candidate for president. Trump should read Article I of the Constitution, to see what Congress does, and then Article II, to see what the president can do. He would discover the U.S. president has no authority to threaten the president of Ford Motor Company with a 35 percent tariff on cars manufactured in Mexico. The House of Representatives is in charge of taxes and tariffs, not the president.
Trump would realize that he can’t threaten Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis. He would find that he can’t break trade deals just because he wants to. Trump doesn’t seem to understand any of this. On March 1, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said, “If you listen to what he’s [Trump’s] saying, he wants to be king; he doesn’t want to be president.”
During this election season, I recommend that everyone read the Constitution. It won’t take long and will remind you of the principles on which this country is founded.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.