“For the second time this year, the federal government tried and failed to convict four men who joined the high-profile Bundy family in its 2014 [Nevada] standoff with federal agents in a dispute over grazing fees for cattle.” Two defendants were acquitted of all charges, and two others were acquitted of most with the jury hanging on the remainder. [Melissa Etehad and David Montero, L.A. Times] Both the armed Nevada standoff, and the later Bundy family takeover of the unoccupied Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon, played at the time as big crisis stories. Despite the weakness of many of the underlying legal claims about land advanced by the protesters, federal prosecutors have struggled to obtain convictions; the Oregon takeover resulted in acquittals in October [our earlier coverage] [revised and corrected; an earlier version of this post had been based on confused chronology]
Les Saitz in The Oregonian examines the constitutional land and sovereignty claims of the Malheur occupiers, which tend to sound in what I have previously called folk law. Many in the group were arrested last night. One final point: the Bundy group can call itself a militia if it likes, but only in the same sense that Dorothy Parker could call herself the Queen of Rumania. Earlier here.
My take on the Oregon standoff, this morning at The Federalist:
As my Cato Institute colleague Randal O’Toole skillfully explained, none of the protagonists in the Oregon standoff really deserve our admiration: the Hammond ranching family misbehaved, the federal government overcharged, and then the Bundy cranks arrived to spray kerosene on the glowing embers….
Unlawful protest occupations of public places and government buildings have long been a familiar part of American public life, and even those not involving arms sometimes have rather serious consequences for the health and well-being of innocent bystanders….
In the ordinary calculations of humanity, events like Waco and Ruby Ridge and the Philadelphia MOVE bombing represent a grotesque failure. Despite the spirit of the mob and the ever-present temptation to shoot first, most such situations in our country are resolved with legal consequences for the wrongdoers but not with loss of life and limb. We should be glad of that.
Read the whole thing here. I’ve covered the earlier Bundy Nevada standoff in this space, as well as the wider phenomenon I call folk law. For more coverage of occupations, blockades, and acts of physical intimidation that were resolved without bloodshed (and sometimes without later legal consequences to those who broke the law) see our tag on selective law non-enforcement, including this from 2011 about how some cheered when unionized Wisconsin police announced solidarity with protesters occupying the state capitol and refused orders to oust them.
More: Randal O’Toole has a new post up on the Hammonds’ actions and punishment.
I could find about a thousand far more sympathetic examples of folks screwed over by government land use regulations — e.g. people whose puddle in the backyard is suddenly a wetlands that they can’t build on. But for some reason Conservatives all rushed to pile on this one example. Stupid.
Only a thousand?
If you imagine that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is some sort of constitutional conservative, Josh Blackman wants to direct your attention to the Property Clause as well as the Supremacy Clause of the (actually existing) U.S. Constitution. He also has some thoughts on the Equal Footing Doctrine (states come into the union on an equal footing to the original 13), and on the rule of law in the context of the alleged right to flout court orders. Earlier here, with many reader comments, and more from Charles C. W. Cooke.
Ted Frank, who formerly blogged in this space, wrote this which I thought worth passing on:
I hate to see how many on my side who are upset at Obama’s violation of the Rule of Law cheer the Bundys’ criminal contempt of a court order. The Bundys are claiming a right to graze upon federal lands without paying or consent of the landowner on the grounds that the federal government has no sovereignty over Nevada. The US BLM has taken twenty years and multiple court proceedings to kick them out, winning twice in the Ninth Circuit. In response, armed militias showed up this week to defend the Bundys, who have threatened range war. The government has temporarily caved to avoid the possibility of armed confrontation. This really isn’t a close question, and threatens to tar all small-government and Second Amendment supporters.
It has been objected that ownership of vast tracts of the American West by the federal Bureau of Land Management is a very bad idea, might have appalled many Framers and early legislators, and has been advanced into our own era through aggressive policies to curtail the participation of private users. I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of all this, however, to Bundy’s supposed right to defy multiple court orders. The federal government should not be in many different lines of business that it currently is in, but that doesn’t create a right of individual citizens to occupy federal installations for personal economic benefit despite court orders directed against them to the contrary.
Ted also calls our attention to this article by Logan Churchwell and Brandon Darby on the 20-year history of the controversy and the positions advanced by rancher Cliven Bundy to justify contempt of the court orders:
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy recently told a radio reporter. “…I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But, I don’t recognize the United States Government as even existing.”
- Fiasco of Cliven Bundy prosecution points up that even those who break the law are entitled to a fair trial. “In the Bundy case, Judge Navarro slammed the FBI for withholding key evidence. Unfortunately, this seems to be standard procedure for the FBI.” [James Bovard, USA Today; Mark Joseph Stern, Slate; earlier]
- Don’t undermine structural protection Double Jeopardy Clause provides against prosecutorial overreach [Jay Schweikert on Cato amicus brief in Currier v. Virginia] Case gives SCOTUS chance to reconsider “dual sovereignty” exception to Double Jeopardy Clause [Ilya Shapiro on Cato certiorari brief in Gamble v. U.S.]
- “The room he was in happened to fall within 572 feet of a park and 872 feet of a school,” within the 1000 feet set by Tennessee law, result misery [C.J. Ciaramella and Lauren Krisai, Reason (“Drug-free school zone laws are rarely if ever used to prosecute sales of drugs to minors. Such cases are largely a figment of our popular imagination.”)]
- Missed last spring: this challenge to the “Standard Story” of mass incarceration [Adam Gopnik on John Pfaff’s “Locked In”]
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse. But with law having proliferated beyond anyone’s grasp, perhaps it should be? [Stephen Carter, Bloomberg, earlier]
- Another study finds decriminalizing prostitution reduces sexual abuse and rape [Alex Tabarrok]
- Arizona considers relaxing its law banning potluck meals outside workplace [KPHO]
- Class action says there is starch in McDonald’s mozzarella sticks and wants money for that [Eater]
- Small North Carolina brewer pulls out of one market rather than trigger state law forcing it to deal through licensed distributors [Charlotte Business Journal]
- Speaking of consumer-unfriendly laws that benefit in-state alcohol distributors with political clout, South Carolina considers adding an “at-rest” law to its three-tier regulatory system [Columbia, S.C. Free Times]
- “These decisions are being made by people who are four to five generations removed from food production.” [Oregon rancher Keith Nantz, Washington Post, on federal land policy]
- Freakout memes aside, shed no tears for country-of-origin-labeling on meat [K. William Watson/Cato, Jayson Lusk] “Reign of Terroir: How to Resist Europe’s Efforts to Control Common Food Names as Geographical Indications” [K. William Watson/Cato]
- “Drunk with power — how Prohibition led to big government” [Julia Vitullo-Martin, New York Post reviewing Lisa McGirr, The War On Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State]
Lawyer Robert Bundy, representing a key witness at the Ted Stevens trial, is said to be all “torn up” about the judge’s accusation that he was transmitting secret nods and movements to convey to his client what testimony was desirable. Eric Turkewitz says that in his experience coaching during testimony takes three forms: “speaking objections”, nods and head movements (which may be unconscious), and deliberate signaling. (Oct. 7; AP/Google).