Cliven Bundy, Mass Resistance, and the Fragility of the Rule of Law
In 1832, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Worcester v. Georgia. The Court in that case ruled that Georgia’s law prohibiting non-Native Americans from being present on Native American lands was unconstitutional. This case led to the probably not true quote from Andrew Jackson of “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Regardless of whether Andrew Jackson said these words or not, the country did not listen to the Supreme Court and the Trail of Tears occurred. This court case happened nearly 200 years ago and we still have people trying to live by Andrew Jackson’s alleged disregard for the decisions of courts.
Cliven Bundy is the story that does not seem to end. For those who haven’t been paying too much attention, a brief crash course: Cliven Bundy is a rancher in Nevada who grazes his cattle on federal land and does not recognize the authority of the Federal Government or the Bureau of Land Management. He stopped paying his grazing fees in 1993. The BLM took him to court in 1998 and won a favorable verdict for 1.2 million dollars in back fees. Cliven Bundy chose to disregard this ruling. A few weeks ago, the BLM began seizing Bundy’s cattle for illegal grazing. He instantly became a cause celebre in far-right circles thanks to the Internet and ranchers and right-wingers rushed to his defense with arms. The Federal government decided to act prudently and stood down. Since then there has luckily been a lot of ink spilled over Cliven Bundy and his stand and no blood.
Cliven Bundy has become a folk symbol even if most people in the established media acknowledge that he doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. The folks at Powerline wrote in sympathy with Cliven Bundy while acknowledging his claims and theories are a few cents short of a dollar. The Weekly Standard has also come out against Cliven Bundy. The liberal response is what you expect: Cliven Bundy is a spoiled millionaire who thinks he is above the law and doesn’t need to follow the rules of courts. Jamelle Bouie and Ta-Neishi Coats have noted correctly that the situation would play out very differently if Cliven Bundy and his supporters were black and hypothetically trying to fight a court-ordered eviction from their homes or defending themselves from a mob like Dr. Ossian Sweet needed to do in Detroit during the 1920s.
The United States and most if not all other democratic nations are built on the concept of rule of law. We do not need to agree with every court decision nor should we expect that this is even possible. There are dozens if not hundreds of court cases every year with very narrow splits between the sitting judges and justices. Every litigator can probably tell you a story about a case where they thought all the laws and facts aligned with their client and they still lost the case. The important thing about rule of law is that you show deference to the final decision. There are plenty of court decisions I don’t agree with but the proper channels for change is not disregard and ignoring them but the slow and painful work of political organization and trying to elect legislatures who will write or amend laws to clarify the stance. This happened in the early 1990s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 which set to reverse the Supreme Court in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164 (1988). Congress can and does reverse decisions made by the court and this is proper.
Cliven Bundy seeks to subvert the democratic process and democracy itself by his current stance. This is not a man who is standing up for being liberty and against tyranny. He is acting like a local warlord who thinks he does not have any responsibilities to his country if it is inconvenient for him. We frequently talk about young people acting like entitled brats because they get angry at teachers and professors for not being given an A. I don’t understand how we can get angry at them when Cliven Bundy can have his temper tantrum and seemingly get away with not following the rules. Cliven Bundy and his supporters are trying to veto democracy, the Constitution, and the courts by gun power. This is how democracy ends, not how it is supported.