BLM's Seizure of Nevada Rancher's Land Rights Unconstitutional

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
BLM's Seizure of Nevada Rancher's Land Rights Unconstitutional

In many ways, the Bureau of Land Management's seizure of Cliven Bundy's land rights violates the Nevada and U.S. Constitutions.

By now, the broad strokes of the showdown in the Nevada desert between legacy cattle rancher Cliven Bundy (shown in photo) and the federal government are readily discernible. For those needing an on-ramp to the issue, read this article written by The New American’s senior editor, William F. Jasper.

Most media coverage of the situation focuses on two claims by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). First, that Bundy hasn’t paid fees to the federal government for his use of “public lands.” Second, that Bundy’s cattle (near 1,000 head) are threatening the habitat of the desert tortoise (never mind that the feds have been killing thousands of those “endangered” animals for years).

What has failed to be adequately explored are the key constitutional conflicts between the BLM’s tyrannical behavior and the power granted to the federal government in the Constitution.

First, a brief review of the historical debates on the issue of federal ownership of “public lands” is in order.

On September 5, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were wrapping up the nearly four months of deliberations. Within two weeks, the document would be signed and sent to state conventions for consideration. But first, there was the question of control the federal government would be authorized to exercise over “public land.”

Discussions centered on the provision of the Constitution known as the Enclave Clause — Article I, Section 8, Clause 17. As he had done so many times, Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry rose to employ his impressive oratorical skill to build better fences separating the federal government from the states and the people.

Gerry contended that “this power [to exercise authority over “public land”] might be made use of to enslave any particular state by buying up its territory, and that the strongholds proposed would be a means of awing the state into an undue obedience to the general government.”

There is no better description of the despotism of the BLM than “awing the state into undue obedience to the general government.” The federal government — and most commentators — believe that the federal government is merely exercising its constitutional right to control “public lands.” Sure, these apologists admit, Bundy is suffering personal deprivation, but that’s the price we pay for “domestic tranquility.”

Our Founding Fathers knew better. As Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) explained in regard to federal seizure of significant land in the mountain West:

Then, as now, we have a grave risk associated with the fact that when the federal government owns this much land, the federal government has this much power. This was on the minds of the delegates to the Convention of 1787, that one of the things they needed to protect against was the concentration of too much power in the hands of the few, especially the concentration of too much power within the federal government. They understood, and each of them had a mission to protect the sovereignty of their respective states. They understood that if Congress had too much power to simply buy up too much land in any one state, disproportionately in some states, the federal government would have too much influence within that state.

Unfortunately for the state of Nevada, its own state constitution is little more than a paean to the unfettered ferocity of the federal beast. Section 2 of the Nevada constitution reads:

Click here to read the entire article.

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