Generally, when we think of a Sheriff, an old scene from Andy Griffth comes to mind. Ethier the Sheriff is portrayed as very nice or just the opposite, outright mean. The Sheriff is almost the living image of the “wild west” where he is getting into more trouble than the criminals. Now in our Modern era, the Sheriff has no significance in our day-to-day life, they have become almost irrelevant.
Richard Mack was the Sheriff of Graham County, Arizona for eight years. He started his career in 1992, wanting to reshape the relatively small county back into a constitutional county. While in a local police meeting three federal agents came also, trying to impose a new federal law called the “Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act”. This law got its name after Ronald Reagen’s press secretary James Brady who attempted an assassination on the president himself.
Richard Mack and the other Sheriffs recoiled against the imposing federal agents and their laws. According to Sheriff Richard, “The language he heard could not be repeated in the presence of genteel Christian ladies.” After this incident, the Sheriff sued the United States Government, with the help of his plaintiff Jay Printz of Montana. On June 17, 1997, they won their case against the government, Printz V. US.
For the final ruling Associate, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the winning opinion. He writes, “…The great innovation of this design was that ‘our citizens would have two political capacities, one state and one federal, each protected from incursion by the other.’…a legal system unprecedented in form and design, establishing two orders of government, each with its own direct relationship, its own privity its own set of mutual rights and obligations to the people who sustain it and are governed it” (P. 920) Again Scalia points to one of our founders to clarify his point, “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself” (Federalist No. 51 and P. 922)
Madison lays it out very clearly. The reason and purpose for the separation of governments are so that no single one grabs all the power. This is very related to how totalitarian governments are shaped to run, one branch grabs all of the power. Madison goes on, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” (Federalist No. 48)
As most know our government is separated into three branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. And the thought behind this is that every branch of government would be power-hungry so when one branch became too powerful a different branch would get mad and so on. Because the founders saw that this might work they divided the powers even more. The Federal government and the State government, and in the mix of that we get the Sheriff.
Ingeniously, our founders gave one little man more power than the president (in his own county). This not only protects whole states from tyrannical federal overreaches, i.e. mask mandates but also gives the state government ultimate power over their counties. The people have ultimate control over government, the preamble to the Constitution even states in its opening paragraph, “We the people…” So when your next county Sheriff election is happening make sure you do your part in it all.
Thank you for reading! Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like me to write about something else next time. Have a great day!