Well, well. Now, when we elect a sheriff, we are apparently electing a constitutional scholar, someone who decides which laws are constitutional and which are not. Our candidates want us to believe that they are steeped in constitutional law. They will be the voice for that imperfect document cobbled together after the failure of the Articles of Confederation.
Let’s see how this plays all the way out with a couple of not too far-fetched hypotheticals:
- The state passes a law making it illegal to interfere in any way a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Under this new law, medical facilities, medical professionals are to be protected from harassment, intimidation, or any action which interferes with their ability to provide these services to women.
Our sheriff knows that the Supreme Court just ruled that, in the view of its conservative majority, there is nothing in the constitution which guarantees a woman’s right to choose this procedure, regardless of what the suits in Olympia say. That works for our sheriff. It’s in accord with his views and with the emails he receives from other like-minded sheriffs. Take action against demonstrators trying to shut down a clinic providing abortion services or picketing a provider’s home? Maybe not so much. The sheriff took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, after all.
- The state Legislature passes a law requiring enhanced background checks before the public or private purchase of a firearm, banning the sale of assault type weapons and requiring law local law enforcement to intervene in any transfer of ownership of such weapons.
Our sheriff knows that the constitution states that there shall be no laws restricting the possession of firearms. He will assure us that the law is unconstitutional — neither he nor his deputies will enforce this new law. Nor will he allow state or federal officials to enforce the law in Okanogan County. He took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, after all.
Um, Houston. I think we have a problem …
Does anyone else find it a bit disturbing that “All three said that they reserve the right not to enforce laws they deem unconstitutional?” The quote is from last week’s article on candidates for the sheriff’s election. Since when did the power to interpret law fall to the hands of law enforcement? Do they not swear an oath to serve the Constitution and the laws of the state they reside in? “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the state of Washington, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of (name of office) to the best of my ability.”
Sheriff duties per Washington law: “The sheriff is the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace of the county. In the execution of his office, he and his deputies arrest and commit to prison all persons who break the peace, or attempt to break it, and all persons guilty of public offenses … In addition to the duties contained in RCW 36.28.010, it shall be the duty of all sheriffs to make complaint of all violations of the criminal law, which shall come to their knowledge, within their respective jurisdictions … No sheriff shall appear or practice as attorney in any court, except in their own defense.”
The following paragraph is quoted from “What Is the Legal Meaning of a Sheriff’s Oath of Office?” by Sheriff Larry Amerson, President, National Sheriffs’ Association, Sheriff Greg Champagne, Chairman, NSA Legal Affairs Committee [Rick Hodsdon, Esq. and Richard Weintraub, NSA General Counsel Contributed Research to this Article]:
“The Office/Department of Sheriff is bound by judicial review and by the laws of each state as are other elected governmental officers. As a result, the judicial branch of government is responsible in interpreting the law when conflicts arise between individual citizens and federal, state and local governmental entities in enforcing the law.”
Nowhere could I find a “right” to “not enforce laws they deem unconstitutional.”