Sheriffs Who Refuse to Enforce the Law

The NYT has an article on Colorado sheriffs who are refusing to enforce Colorado’s recent gun-control laws. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario is part of that group.

Vallario has posted his position online at the Garfield County Sheriff’s website in something he calls “Just the Facts.” He writes that he took an oath to defend the Constitutions of the U.S. and Colorado, “not to be a part of destroying them.” And he concludes that he is “fairly certain” that the Constitution is all about personal safety and reducing gun crimes.

Vallario overlooks the fact that the Constitution is based on a concept of checks and balances. Law enforcement officials cannot decide whether a law is constitutional — that authority is reserved for the judicial branch.  Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson understands the separation of powers espoused by Montesquieu and the Founding Fathers. On the topic of enforcing gun-control laws, he wrote:

“Public safety professionals serving in the executive branch, do not have the constitutional authority, responsibility, and in most cases, the credentials to determine the constitutionality of any issue.”

Vallario’s refusal to enforce laws he personally disagrees with is simply wrong. There is a reason for the title “law enforcement.” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle sums up the argument against Vallario and his cohorts nicely:

“A lot of sheriffs are claiming the Constitution, saying that they’re not going to enforce this because they personally believe it violates the Second Amendment. But that stance in and of itself violates the Constitution.”

People can disagree about the efficacy or difficulty of enforcing a particular law. That debate  must be encouraged and be part of the public discourse. It is a key part to our political process. But the issue of whether a law is unconstitutional cannot be unilaterally decided by a member of the executive branch, e.g. the Garfield County Sheriff. Vallario’s stance calls into question the idea of checks and balances and the Constitution.

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