Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Bottle In Front of Me

"A citation to authority may only mean you've found someone else who is wrong and agrees with you."*

Super-GoofNothing hits the snooze button quite as hard as a tiptoe through some arcane corners of the US Constitution, especially when writing a general interest blog. For all of its majesty, its appeal to better angels, its beautiful (if sometimes impenetrable) eighteenth century prose, to anyone other than a constitutional scholar a discussion of the minutiae evokes a gush of sleep-inducing melatonin so powerful as to induce Van Winkle-caliber slumber. Forgive me.

Our poor constitution had a miserable week. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in an interview in Egypt, seemed to suggest it was dated. Administration officials largely dismissed First Amendment concerns in the roll out of an administrative rule concerning contraceptives. And a group of county sheriff's met to discuss their constitutional duty to defend their jurisdictions against Federal Government Tyranny.


Like any self-respecting law nerd, I did a bunch of research. Among other things, I went onto a web site - Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. I listened to about five minutes of a YouTube clip by some guy named "Sheriff Mack" who, he said...that the sheriff is the highest law enforcement official in his county. By virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, any sheriff has the power to arrest US Government officials in their county for...something. And so forth. A review of their Board of Directors revealed that their legal advisor is someone who has, among his titles, "Chief Legal Counsel, Sultanate of Sulu." I presume that refers to the Archipelago of Sulu in the Philippines, not the guy on Star Trek. That's about when I gave up.

Sheriff Mack - former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona - echoes the philosophy of the Posse Comitatus movement, which is mostly disconnected from the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Before this gets too gruesome, the PC crowd believes that the Constitution and "common law" rests sole law enforcement jurisdiction in the county sheriff...and that's it. Not the local cops, not the State folks with the mounty hats and certainly no one connected with the FBI. Most of the reading I could do in a morning (or stomach in one sitting) avoids referring to laws specifically, but the articles mostly represent an echo chamber of self-citation. In the YouTube clip, Mack appears to cite his book as authority for his opinions, which is a mere citation to self. It's a kind of "As I've often said" form. Documented, he says, as though writing something on a piece of paper makes it irrefutable and worthy of repetition. "Sheriff Mack wrote...." being a place Sheriff Mack cites authoritatively because he wrote it in a book.

Professor Friedman, in the same discussion that spawned the header quote, answered a question by remarking that law school had done great damage to a student's ability to reason (he meant it kiddingly, and was taken that way by the student and his classmates). Maybe that's my problem. Law school taught me that, when haranguing about legal matters, pulling legal concepts from one's anal orifice is bad, finding a source in properly enacted constitutional provisions, statutes and court opinions is good.

But, apparently, I thought they said bottle in front of me, and I asked for another round, so don't take anything I might say as worthy of citation. Law school did great harm to my reasoning ability, too.

*Professor James Friedman, University of Maine School of Law, 2011.

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