States Rights Rebellion

by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 23, 1994

Western states — fed up with despotism —
are attempting a rollback of federal power…

Once again, the spirit of John C. Calhoun stalks the land.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.” So reads our long-forgotten 10th Amendment. Seizing on this amendment, Western states — fed up with federal despotism — are attempting a rollback of federal power and a rebirth of states’ rights.

Illegal aliens, unfunded federal mandates, control of land, guns — these are the issues driving a gathering national rebellion.

California has filed suit demanding the United States assume full cost of educating, medicating and imprisoning illegal aliens. The U.S., says California, has ignored its constitutional duty to protect California from invasion, allowing her to be overrun by a million illegals every year.

Alaska — whose governor, Walter Hickel, won election as the candidate of a party advocating secession — has filed a $29 billion suit charging the U.S. with locking up 100 million acres of Alaska’s land in violation of the compact by which Alaska became a state.

Colorado has passed the 10th Amendment resolution ordering the U.S. to “cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of the constitutionally delegated powers.

In Montana, Sheriff Jay Printz refused to enforce the Brady law mandating background checks on gun buyers. He has neither the time nor manpower, declared Sheriff Printz, adding, “We like our guns in Montana… It’s not unusual for a person to have 15 guns or more.”

In Billings, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell ruled in favor of Printz, striking down that part of the Brady law. Under the 10th Amendment, ruled the judge, the federal government cannot force states to allocate resources to carry out federal responsibilities.

In Graham County, Arizona, Sheriff Richard Mack filed suit against Brady, saw his suit upheld, and became a folk hero, leading a parade of 20,000 in a protest against gun laws in Medford, Oregon.

Sheriff Mack has a book coming out in September [1994], “From My Cold Dead Fingers,”which he says, “gets into things like Waco and Bernhard Goetz and how government’s own documentation shows that the safest way to defend yourself is with a gun.

Like the Sagebrush Rebellion of 15 years ago, this revolt out of the West threatens to decimate the Democratic Party.

It is being driven by miners, ranchers and loggers who see a way of life being destroyed by judges and bureaucrats. It is backed by elected officials fed up with being ordered to meet the mandates of Congress and by taxpayers enraged at being robbed of property rights by federal agencies without just compensation.

Beltway elites may scoff, but this rebellion is growing. One day it will manifest itself in acts more dramatic than a handful of sheriffs refusing to carry out Brady. In Colorado there is talk of the state withholding federal gas tax revenues from Washington and spending the money directly on state highways.

In Catron County, N.M., rhetoric about “taking back America” has taken on real meaning. When the Forest Service curbed timber harvests to protect the habitat of Mexican spotted owl, and started reviewing whether cattle grazing was endangering the range land, county officials drew up their own plan for managing the land. Forest rangers who tried to cut ranchers’ livestock grazing permits were threatened with arrest.

“The Forest Service has been run off at gunpoint,” says Susan Schock, a silver City, N.M., environmentalist. “They’ve turned the forest over to the county.”

“If we didn’t have the plan, there would have been bloodshed,” says rancher Dick Manning. “Things have gotten to that point.”

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who is prosecuting Mr. Clinton’s “War against the West,” chuckles at the “sovereign nation of Catron County.” But Catron’s defiance has inspired a nationwide “county movement,” enlisting county and state governments in the battle against environmental regulators

People for the West!, a new grassroots organization, calls for increased, not diminished, development of the 500 million acres of federal land. It now has 30,000 members, has doubled its chapters in the last year, and claims credit for the Senate filibuster that forced Commissar Babbitt to retreat from his proposed hike in grazing fees.

Whose land is it, anyway? that is the question. And support is building behind a movement to have most of those 500 million acres of federal land turned over to the states, leaving decisions about the use and preservation of that land to the people who care most about it — the people who live on it!

The 10th Amendment rebellion is a cause that populists and conservatives ought not only to get behind but out in front of.