“We don’t make laws, we just enforce them.”
Such statements have become almost a cliché in police departments across the country. But the statement is not always true.
Some laws are more readily enforced than others.
And over the years, several sheriffs issued press releases saying they would not enforce this or that law.
For example, Bexar County, Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar announced on June 25, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling in Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s right to an abortion, that he would not enforce Texas law restricting abortion.
“Shame on the Supreme Court and the bureaucrats in Washington DC and Austin who are trying to impose their supposed morality on others,” Salazar wrote in the post. “They won’t use my badge or the color of my office for this.”
Not surprisingly, his statement was criticized by Texas conservatives and praised by progressives. Should a cop just ignore the law because he just doesn’t like it?
This question is being asked in Sangamon County, where Sheriff Jack Campbell has announced that he will not enforce the Assault Weapons Ban recently passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker.
Campbell, who said he believed the bill violated the Second Amendment, joined the vast majority of Illinois County sheriffs in saying they would not abide by the law.
“I believe that it is not only my moral duty, but also my constitutional duty to protect the right of citizens to keep and bear arms,” he told the Illinois Times.
The Illinois Community Protection Act, signed into law by Gov. J. B. Pritzker on January 10, immediately bans the sale and purchase of semi-automatic firearms and gives owners of these weapons until January 1, 2024 to report their serial numbers. with the Illinois State Police.
“At the moment, I don’t see any part of it that suits me, because all it does is start to infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” he said. “If we don’t say no now, we could end up in a country we don’t really want to live in.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone that sheriffs are the ones who make public statements about non-enforcement of conflicting laws. After all, they are politicians in uniform.
But is it appropriate for law enforcement to refuse to enforce laws they don’t like?
Well, to some extent they always did. When I was a reporter in Las Vegas, Nevada was the only state where possession of any amount of marijuana was a felony.
At the time, I asked two cop friends how they enforce the state’s draconian cannabis law. One of them, a police officer at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said that when she smelled marijuana while patrolling her dorm, she simply ignored it. Another constable from Clark County, Nevada, said that when he found marijuana while executing an eviction order, he simply flushed it down the toilet, but made no arrests.
None of them felt that filing criminal charges against lawbreakers was a good use of law enforcement resources. On the other hand, the Nevada Legislature, duly elected by the people, declared that this was criminal behavior. Were these cops supposed to turn a blind eye to criminal behavior?
Do they decide which laws to apply? Most civil law books would say no.
When sheriffs say they won’t enforce a particular law, they’re committing an ethical violation, said Robert Wadman, former police chief of Aurora, Illinois, and Omaha, Neb., and professor emeritus at Weber State University.
Here’s the catch: The Bexar County Sheriff said he would not enforce abortion restrictions after the US Supreme Court ruled that such laws were constitutional. The Nevada cops I knew turned a blind eye to marijuana laws that, despite lousy government policy, passed constitutional scrutiny.
Campbell and more than 70 other Illinois sheriffs say they will not enforce the law until its constitutionality has been reviewed by a single judge. Can the new law be declared unconstitutional? Yes. But that’s far from certain, says Eric Reuben, a Southern Methodist University law professor who specializes in the Second Amendment.
“This is a signal to citizens that they are not required to comply with the law. And that makes sheriffs the people who decide whether a law is constitutional – and that’s not their role. In a sense, it would be more honest to say that they are not going to apply the law because they do not agree with it. But they weigh its constitutionality, and that’s not their job.”
The right to bear arms, like any other right, is not absolute. Ultimately, the question of whether a law is constitutional will be decided by the court.
According to him, with the current composition of the US Supreme Court, it is unclear whether the ban on assault weapons will pass the constitutional review.
“I think there are at least three judges who would vote to overturn it, but I’m not sure there are five,” he said.
In the meantime, it would be better if the sheriffs simply applied the law, and did not express their opinion about its constitutionality.
Scott Reeder, staff correspondent for the Illinois Times, can be contacted at: [email protected].