By Carolyn McKinney, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire
Contrary to what many pundits will tell you, the upcoming presidential election is not the most important decision facing New Hampshire voters this November.
It’s true; a change in the presidency would at least slow our nation’s march toward an all-powerful centralized government. Yet, despite a long series of political party fluctuations in the White House and Congress, Americans have experienced no real shift in direction—and I have no confidence that we will ever see a that shift from the federal level.
The people will only regain their liberty when they use the states’ inherent constitutional power to wrest back power from the federal government. Therefore, what really matters this November are the type of people we elect to the State Legislature and, just as important, the people we elect as New Hampshire’s county sheriffs. These people—and the sheriffs in particular—can change the direction, not just of the state, but also of the entire nation.
By design, county sheriffs are supreme law enforcement officers in American counties, and their number one duty is not to transport prisoners, as some pundits in New Hampshire would have you believe. Before anything else, a County Sheriff’s job as a peace officer is to protect and defend the constitutional rights of citizens in the county from all enemies, "foreign and domestic." Accordingly, county sheriffs in New Hampshire and in the other 49 states are America’s last defense against an out-of-control federal government, which seems to be increasingly determined to take away citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
This fact is not just my opinion, but also the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Printz, Mack v. United States (1997), which overturned parts of the Brady Act of 1993, a gun-control law. Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz of Montana and Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack of Arizona brought the case when federal agents ordered them to help register guns. Rather than comply with the order under a misinterpretation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the two sheriffs challenged the unconstitutional law and won.
Important in the decision, writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said: "States are not subject to federal direction." He clarified that the Supremacy Clause does not make the U.S. government the supreme authority in the United States; rather, the Supremacy Clause makes the U.S. Constitution and all laws that abide by it the supreme law of the land.
Further, Scalia said that states and their subdivisions have an equal authority to enforce the U.S. Constitution within their jurisdictions: "Our citizens would have two political capacities, one state and one federal, each protected from incursion by the other," he wrote. Just in case his point wasn’t clear, Scalia quoted James Madison, Father of the Constitution, in Federalist 51: "The local or municipal authorities form distinct and independent portions of the Supremacy, no more subject within their respective spheres, to the general authority than the general authority is subject to them, within its own sphere."
It is the independent authority of the sheriff, within his county sphere, that can help protect citizens from abusive federal power—or abusive state power, for that matter. His role as a peace officer is to make sure that all citizens, regardless of their status or position, are treated equally under the law. The fact that the people elect their sheriff makes his position even more powerful, because the county sheriff is accountable only to the people he serves.
As examples, consider the Lemhi County Idaho Sheriff Brett Barslou’s move to organize 500 citizens in support of a rancher who had shot a gray wolf that killed one of his calves. The sheriff’s actions forced three armed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents to back off their attempt to serve a warrant. Contemplate Sheriff Richard Mack’s support for a local board of supervisors within his Graham County Arizona jurisdiction. Mack forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to back off from a threat to fine the town $50,000 a day for rebuilding a washed-out bridge without the “required” 10-year environmental impact study. The town built the bridge that year, and the town paid no fines. Also note how sheriffs throughout the State of Wyoming have told federal agents they must get permission before they do anything within their various jurisdictions.
Voters should take comfort in a long history of county sheriffs standing up for the Constitution, not just in our early history, but also in modern times. At least two candidates running for sheriff in 2012, Bradley Jardis in Coös County and Frank Szabo in Hillsborough County, fully understand the importance of the county sheriff role, and for that reason they should earn voters’ enthusiastic support.