Payne County Sheriff Joe Harper told me some Oklahoma sheriffs were looking into a state constitutional amendment to “clarify” the sheriff is over all law enforcement in the county. Was he was referring to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association? A few sheriffs, such as Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, think the sheriff is the supreme law enforcement authority within a county with the power to arrest any state or federal law officer violating rights of residents. To this end Arpaio co-founded CSPOA. President Trump made clear he has Arpaio’s back. CSPOA claims membership of about ten percent of county sheriffs, including some from Oklahoma.
The CSPOA website offers 14 scenarios and asks what the sheriff would do. What CSPOA considers the correct answers seems obvious.
#4. If a Federal, State or Local Government and/or the United Nations were to implement a policy of door to door gun confiscation in your jurisdiction, what do you do?” Correct answer: “Interpose myself on behalf of the people to protect their rights to keep and bear arms at all costs.”
#5. “Do you believe that the IRS conducting random audits on innocent citizens is a proper and constitutional procedure?” Correct answer: “ ... As much as the IRS might like to think they deserve an exemption to the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, no such exemption exists ...”
#9. “... Federal and State bureaucracies have been raiding farmers and destroying their dairy products and businesses for merely distributing natural products like raw milk, cheese, or natural lip balm. ... if this were to occur in your county, what would you do about it?” Correct answer: “The right farmers have to run their businesses as they see fit is more important than regulations and rules. ... I will stand with all farmers and will indeed protect their lands and businesses from all threats.”
#10. “According to the principles of our Constitutional Republic; who is responsible for keeping the Federal Government in check? Correct answer: “... The Sheriff is absolutely an integral part of maintaining the balance of power between the States and Federal Government.”
#`12c. “... What is liberty?” Correct answer: “Rights granted by God, protected by government.”
#13. “Which ... best describe your views [on government COVID action]? Choose all that apply.” Correct answers: a) “The response to the coronavirus by government was wrong and unlawful ... the shutdown of liberty and the destruction of our economy were not necessary and not justified. b) “... Sheriffs ... are not the ‘mask police.’ ... Protecting the rights of our constituents is our sworn duty and such responsibilities are not voided by any disease or ‘crisis of the day.’”
The Founders’ concern was federal overreach – they were trying to get states to sign up. The experience from 1789 forward, however, has been horrors inflicted by states. A civil war and three constitutional amendments later, Congress can legislate to protect rights infringed by states.
When a sheriff arrests a federal officer, say an IRS agent harassing a constituent, then what? A prisoner must be presented before a magistrate who will ask what statute has been violated. A federal attorney will have federal statutes authorizing the IRS agent to do exactly what he or she was doing. If the magistrate goes along with the sheriff, the federal attorney will quickly get a higher court to order the agent’s release with an injunction enjoining the sheriff from impeding the IRS. So, how is the sheriff to protect the rights of constituents from State or Federal abuse? Or abuse from municipal cops enforcing ordinances against firing off celebratory pistols or keeping livestock within city limits?
CSPOA sheriffs will not cooperate with agencies violating rights, a minor inconvenience. Agencies already have all they need. But sheriffs have statutory obligations. They run county jails and enforce laws. Oklahoma jails in violation of law regularly result in eight-digit court settlements. Say a sheriff announces speed limits will not be enforced on rural roads. A speeding teenager slams into a church van resulting in eight deaths. There will be lawsuits with potential nine-digit damages for the county.
Oh! For those thrilling days of yesteryear when Sheriff Carl Hiner rode the back table at Mom’s Café wondering how he was supposed to expunge records – send a deputy into the files with whiteout?
Bob Darcy author is a retired OSU Regents Professor of Political Science and Statistics.