March 13, Logandale, Nevada
Cliven Bundy was released from jail on January 8, 2018 after being held without bail for 22 months when, during court proceedings, Judge Gloria Navarro of the U.S. District Court of Nevada in Las Vegas declared a mistrial. She ruled that U.S. prosecutors and the FBI deliberately withheld evidence important to the defense, violating due process, and dismissed his case.
In an earlier Bundy case, in October, 2016, Cliven’s sons Ammon and Ryan and five others were acquitted in Oregon on charges stemming from their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in that state.
For more than 20 years Cliven grazed his cattle, estimated over 1,000 head at times, on federal lands. He ignored paying grazing fees since 1993 and owed over $1,000,000. Citing The Nay Book, The Treaty of Guadalupe, and the U.S. Constitution itself, the cattleman says that the State of Nevada is the rightful magistrate of the land. When federal agents came to impound his cattle in 2014, Cliven, his sons and their supporters protested. Tensions grew, and loaded weapons were pointed in both directions. Family, loyalty to the land through hardship, history and their sense of place in it, the Bundys say, further provide them with all the legitimacy they need.
During three civil cases spanning two decades, however, the Courts rejected Cliven’s assertions about who owns the land and which governing entity is sovereign. [Quotes are from the letter dated December 11, 2018 from Patrick Donnelly, Nevada State Director, Center for Biological Diversity, Las Vegas, to Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board, Overton.]
–In 1998 in Case No. CV-S 98-531, U.S. v Bundy [Bundy I ], the U.S. filed a Complaint to put an end to Bundy grazing his cattle illegally. Bundy argued that the United States has no authority over lands inside of a state and tried to get this case dismissed. Instead, the Federal Court ruled that “federal lands located within states are federal territories under federal jurisdiction.” The Court explained that it had examined the history of the lands in question. Since 1848 when Mexico ceded this territory to the United States under The Treaty of Guadalupe, this further proof of ownership by the U.S. Government was definitive. The ruling concluded that Cliven Bundy must remove his cattle from public land.
–In 2013 in Case No. 2:12-cv-0804, U.S. v. Bundy [Bundy II ], the U.S. again filed a Complaint against Bundy’s illegal grazing. Despite his losing the 1998 case, Bundy put forth the same argument, that the United States did not own the land in question and lacked jurisdiction. In this case the Court further ruled, “Bundy is incorrect in claiming that the Disclaimer Clause of the Nevada Constitution carries no legal force, that the Property Clause of the United States Constitution applies only to federal lands outside the borders of states, that the United States’ exercise of ownership over federal lands violates the Equal Footing Doctrine, that the United States is basing its authority to sanction Bundy for his unauthorized use of federal lands on the Endangered Species Act as opposed to trespass, and that Nevada’s “Open Range” excuses Bundy’s trespass.” Again, Cliven Bundy must remove his livestock from public lands to be in compliance with the law.”
–In 2016 in U.S. v. Bundy, Case No. 2:16-cv-00046 [Bundy III ], Bundy’s argument was heard for the third time, and for the third time rejected. In this case the Court found that “Mr. Bundy’s position on the ownership and management of federal public lands in Nevada is not only contrary to binding federal case law but it is also at odds with the State of Nevada’s position.”
Despite these rulings, to date Bundy’s cattle still graze at will throughout northeast Clark County as they have for decades, with grazing fees ignored and trespass fines adding up. Cliven says he would not change any of his decisions over the years. And why should he? The government simply has not enforced the law and seems unable to find a viable way to do so barring threat of bloodshed.
Meanwhile, the Minutes to the August 29, 2018 meeting of the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board, a rural arm of the Clark County Board of County Commission, show that Cliven requested discussion about local land use, specifically about residents’ access to public land. He referenced a five-page draft of his proposed comprehensive Land and Resource Management Plan with attached maps. His first goal was a public meeting which would take action on his Management Plan. At this August meeting, however, the Plan was not actionable, and the Board simply heard his opinion. If the Board would not later agree to a public meeting, Bundy said, then he would host such a meeting himself.
On one hand, Clark County lacks authority to decide how the land will be used. Those decisions rest with the Federal government. On the other, the March 13 Agenda shows the Town Board will discuss and take “possible action” on Bundy’s Plan after completing their review of the documents he supplied. They will also hear from the public. All this seems to lend additional legitimacy to Bundy’s grazing claim. Perhaps the Board members will also review documents which support laws on the books, including the Constitution and the rulings of the three Bundy civil cases, but it does not so state in either the Minutes of February 13 or the Agenda of March 13.
It is the business of the BLM to enforce land use laws. A 2002 Inspector General’s report titled Disquieting State of Disorder: An Assessment of Department of Interior Law Enforcement described BLM’s law enforcement as chaotic. Meanwhile the Bundys’ movement to end federal authority over public lands seems to be gaining traction as a natural response to lack of enforcement.
But the media has always focused disproportionately on the agitator, the notorious, and the celebrity, exactly as this article and so many others do on Bundy, who is arguably all three. Could it be that Cliven wins and the vast majority of the Western cattlemen still paying grazing fees are fools? On February 6, 2019, Federal prosecutors filed an 88-page opening brief to appeal Judge Navarro’s dismissal of charges against Cattleman Bundy, who remains subject to simple arrest by the Clark County Sheriff. It remains to be seen whether he will ever see his day of reckoning and be held responsible.
When we fail to subject ourselves to the rule of law and fail in our reverence to the Constitution, as the Bundys have, we destabilize governance. The likely result is violence, and we saw that in the April 2014 standoffs. The remedy is for law abiding citizens to voice our support of the law and its enforcement. Research the Constitution and its laws as circumstances require so that challengers to it can be dispatched quickly and without question.
The real heroes in this story are those Western cattlemen who pay their fees to remain in compliance. And the members of the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board who can reference the law and ask Bundy to take his seat. One hopes Bundy will eventually come to his senses and return to compliance, but sorry to say, we have provided him no incentive. For the sake of the order of governance our Constitution so intelligently provides, we can all do our part to change that now.
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