Many have framed the standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Federal Bureau of Land Management as a “states’ rights” issue. Consider this summary by CBS News.
“The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy. Bundy does not recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada.”
The issue of federal land ownership and regulation raises many constitutional questions. (You can read more on the issue HERE and HERE.) But Nevadans have a far bigger problem to worry about. The Nevada state constitution completely submits the state to federal authority.
In other words, Nevadans can’t claim state sovereignty to defy unconstitutional federal actions. They signed it away in their constitution.
“Sec:2. Purpose of government; paramount allegiance to United States. All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”
Within the American constitutional structure, states have the authority to resist unconstitutional acts because they don’t constitute legitimate “law.” Thomas Jefferson made the case succinctly in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
“Whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
As sovereign political societies that only delegated certain, specific powers to the federal government, states can ignore or resist unconstitutional federal acts. James Madison laid out the blueprint in Federalist 46.
But the Nevada constitution gives up the state’s right to determine in the last resort the powers delegated to the federal government and hands it to the Supreme Court. If five of the nine federal employees staffing the Court deem something constitutional, that settles the matter under Nevada law.
Consider this: during the fugitive slave era, nearly every northern state appealed to its sovereignty to oppose and resist the draconian Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. But under the current state constitution, Nevadans could not have legitimately resisted through their state legislature. Nevada lawmakers could never have passed personal liberty laws to protect the rights of its black citizens. Every federal act reigns supreme in Nevada until the SCOTUS strikes it down.
Simply put the Nevada constitution makes it illegal to resist an illegal federal act. Nevadans have essentially bound themselves to submit to any federal usurpation. An unconstitutional act, while null, void and unenforceable, will be recognized and enforce in the state of Nevada.
I’m not calling the actions of those opposing the feds in Nevada “wrong.” I will always stand on the side of those who stand up against injustice. But when Bundy’s supporters make their case based on state sovereignty and the U.S. Constitution, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
State constitutions matter.
Nevadans have a bigger problem than the BLM. They must reclaim their state sovereignty by amending the state constitution. That will empower them to harness the power of the state to resist federal usurpation. As it stands, Nevadans fighting for freedom must not only battle Washington D.C., they must also fight Carson City.