Can Local Sheriffs Refuse to Enforce Gun Control Laws?
The short answer to the question in the title of this missive is yes. Let us look at how I arrived at this.
We start with a quote from the Federalist Papersspecifically No. 78: “No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”
Further in the 1886 Supreme Court decision Norton v. Shelby County: “An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties, affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.”
Far from undermining the rule of law, the local police and county officials taking these stands are actually supporting constitutional law and fulfilling their oaths to defend the founding document.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers (#78): There is a misconception in our time that the court somehow is the arbiter of what is constitutional; that’s not true! Every official that raises their right hand and says they’re going to adhere to the constitution, seek to protect it to the best of their ability, ‘so help me God’ – that’s something that they’re all obligated to do.”
If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their WILL to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents. (The emphasis is mine) (end of quote)