Thursday, February 25, 2016

Constitutional Sheriffs and the Vulnerability of Islands

By Bob Ferris

The ranchers making their pleas.
I have been thinking a lot about the so-called Constitutional Sheriffs of late.  For one thing it is an interesting construct as sheriffs per se are never mentioned in the US Constitution.  This whole issue becomes relevant again—just as we were breathing a sigh of relief from the Bundys—because another Pocket Constitution carrying Mormon family is threatening a similar confrontation in Piute County, Utah and now with the aid of a “Constitutional Sheriff.”  It is relevant here to mention that Sheriffs are not mentioned in the Utah Constitution either, but the Sheriff’s office in Utah was created legislatively through Title 17 Chapter 22 of the Utah code ergo they are hardly constitutional in nature.

Before I start many rant on this I want to create context.  One way to do that is to think about the scene in Mel Brooks’ immortal Blazing Saddles where the town has a meeting and all the folks in the meeting hall are Johnsons.  The scene is funny, but it also creates the impression of isolation and a closed society.  Johnsons marry Johnsons and while there is some diversity of thought within the group, they seem pretty homogeneous to the outside world.  One guesses that these Johnsons might be less accepting of outsiders—particularly foreigners.  They are also expected to be less educated than others in “the big city” and they are pretty much all white.

And what do we find in Piute County?  First we find it is a large place with very few people—a little more than 1,500 souls.  (For point of reference, my suburban high school had more students than their entire county.)  Moreover, demographically they are nearly snowball-white with just 0.2% of the population of African American decent which works out to 3-4 folks in this entire landscape.  And only two dozen or so of the citizenry were born in foreign lands.  Folks in Piute County graduate from high school less frequently than others in Utah and are half as likely as their fellow Beehive State residents to have a college degree.  And they seem to revel in this insularity as Ballotpedia gave them an “F” for transparency based upon what they offer the public on their website.  Evidently they like being “Johnsons” and are good at it.
“Sheriff Gleave asked [Jason Kling US Forest Service] what side he is on.  [Jason Kling] said he is on the side that is the best for the land and the people.  Official minutes of Piute County Commission January 11, 2016 Junction City, Utah
“Sheriff Gleave brought up another permit for Keith Anderton and Stanton Gleave that should have been put back into their hands 2 years ago.” Official minutes of Piute County Commission January 11, 2016 Junction City, Utah
“Sheriff Gleave informed Jason Kling [US Forest Service] that he will not allow this to be a Bundy situation. If that entails jailing the forest service he will do it!!!!”  Official minutes of Piute County Commission January 11, 2016 Junction City, Utah 
So in the context of the “Johnson dynamic” it should not come as a huge surprise that the rancher in question, Stanton Gleave (see here for past issues), can count on his nephew and Sheriff Marty Gleave to argue his case at a Piute County Commission Meeting held this past January and attended by Kali Gleave in the role of County Clerk and Auditor.  Moreover, it is not too surprising that this insular and cloistered set of communities would fall prey to and readily accept a line of reasoning—no matter how flawed—that would allow them to gain more authority over lands near them and thus become even more insular.  This acceptance of the views offered by the Constitutional Sheriff adherents and this annoying Pocket Constitution becomes even more probable when you examine the level of promotion of these ideas have had in this setting and with this type of audience that want this to be true and generally lack the analysis tools necessary to properly and objectively evaluate these ideas.

The illogic and the cognitive dissonance in this whole situation is simply staggering.  That any sheriff anywhere would think that he or she would have say over the way federal lands are managed flies in the face of the basic concept of land ownership (ratified by the Property Clause of the US Constitution, the Utah Constitution and case law).  Even the most conservative interpretation of the US Constitution—which I should add is not supported by case law—argues that the federal government has the same rights as a private land owner.  My sense is that that Sheriff Gleave is not telling other landowners in the area when and how to graze their lands.  And where is this function of natural resources supervision on federal lands listed under his duties described in Title 17, Chapter 22, Section 2 of the Utah code?  I looked and looked and could not find it.  

Federal Farm Subsidies Received by the Various Gleaves of Piute County from 1995 to 2012
Stanton Gleave $271, 929.21
Randy Gleave $77,340.25
Jan Gleave $61,159.35
Garrett Gleave $27,781.00
Marty Gleave $12,642.00
Jamey Gleave $11,410.00
Beth Gleave $1,640.00
Scott Gleave $1,640.00
Larry I. Gleave $35.00
It hurts the mind to figure under what line of reasoning Stanton Gleaves and also his nephew Sheriff Marty—who both hold and have signed federal grazing leases as well as receiving non-trivial amounts of federal agricultural assistance (see above)—can rightfully employ when they try to make the argument that the federal government’s role in the area has suddenly evaporated because they went to a seminar or two and hold in their hand an annotated copy of the US Constitution that costs less than a dollar?  Setting aside Marty Gleave's multi-tentacled conflict of interest in this whole affair, his ignoring these numerous contractual agreements he has drawn benefit from seems very much like the frustrated nobles of old who had their marriages annulled when male children were not forthcoming.  It is an action that lacks a certain moral color.

The illogic deepens when you consider that the Gleaves are pushing hard on an agenda espoused recently by 25 others—also holding these very same Pocket Constitutions—who are presently cooling their heels in jail and probably looking at surrendering their jeans for jumpsuits for the foreseeable future.  Now I understand that there is a “critical mass” argument being circulated, but with more than 2 million prisoners in the US what will be the real impact of these 25 or even eight more from Utah?  And with more than 320 million owners of these public lands why would their rights be rejected in favor of roughly 20,000 who have already enjoyed greatly discounted access to these lands.

There are so many issues here so I will close with this.  I spent far too much time watching the above video that specifically addresses a large portion of the issues raised by this incident and specifically made to address similar circumstances.  The take home messages from this are diverse but include the notion that Sheriffs in Utah are not Constitution but rather creatures created by the Legislature.  Moreover when you distill their responsibilities as it applies to federal lands their function is simple: Enforce state laws on federal lands.  So in this latter context I would ask Sheriff Gleave just exactly what Utah State law would these federal employees that you threatened to arrest be breaking by lawfully enforcing elements of the Taylor Grazing Act approved by Congress in 1934 and the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act approved by Congress in 1976?  It is hard to imagine how making extra-legal threats based on unproven and faulty legal analyses achieves your legislatively defined duty of keeping the peace.


  1. A little rough, rather frightening, and fully funny. Thanks, Bob.

  2. You should be ashamed of yourself!
    Instead of ridiculing people for referring to the Constitution, why don't you read it yourself? You just might read exactly what land the federal government is to have jurisdiction over. And what happens to 'territorial land' once the territory becomes a state. If anything, the federal government is waaaaaay out of line and unlawful. In fact, you'll find that the BLM and WFS are private, for profit corporations listed on Dunn & Bradstreet. Look it up. So what we really have here is a private corporation posing as a government entity ... it's called fraud. And their tactics of burning homes, corral, livestock, etc., are commonly referred to as 'terrorism'.

    And let's not get into the ridiculously mismanaged BLM and FS lands. If you think having those arrogant self-serving nitwits controlling the land is good for it, you're obviously unaware.

    1. Turns out that I have read the US Constitution as well as the debates behind the creation of the Enclave Clause (to which you refer) and the Property Clause (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2) which was written by a collateral ancestor of mine. I have also read the various Northwest Ordinances and the state constitutions for a good number of the western states and case law associated with this topic. Now I know you probably went to a seminar, watched a video or visited a website but you ought to take some time to read the primary literature rather than relying on untrustworthy sources.