Arpaio needs a refresher course in constitutional law

 
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BY MILES SCHNEIDERMAN —

(Comic by Brian Regan)

(Comic by Brian Regan)

Arpaio. We meet again.

With the gun control debate on the tip of every tongue, it didn’t take long for controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to make an insipid comment. In a Jan. 16 interview with KFYI radio host Mike Broomhead, Arpaio voiced his opinion on the Obama administration’s proposed expansion to the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“I took 10 oaths of office and they all say I will defend the Constitution of the United States and the laws of my state, Arizona. I take that very serious,” Arpaio said. “Now, if they’re going to tell the sheriff that he’s going to go around picking up guns from everybody, they’re going to have a problem. I may not enforce that federal law.”

I’m sorry, did Arpaio — a law officer — say he might just flat-out ignore a federal law? Yes, he did. Grammatical problems aside, Arpaio isn’t the only sheriff around the country making noises like these. More than 100 U.S. sheriffs have expressed concern about the new gun regulations and how they could be seen as a violation of the Second Amendment. Here in Arizona, Pinal Country Sheriff Paul Babeu and Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher have made statements similar to Arpaio’s. On the same day Arpaio spoke with Broomhead, Babeu sent a letter to President Barack Obama.

“I will also push for legislation which would make it a crime for any federal law enforcement officer to infringe upon any Constitutional rights of the citizens I am sworn to protect,” Babeu wrote.

Some state legislators are pushing for that, as well. Two of the bills introduced in the new session, Senate Bill 1112, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Ward, and House Bill 2291, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, would effectively ban the enforcement of federal law in relation to guns and ammunition in the state of Arizona.

All these elected officials are insisting, at least in the case of firearms, state law trumps federal law. The problem is, that’s not how it works. If Joe Arpaio had spent more time actually reading the Constitution he claims to take so “serious,” he might have heard of something called the Supremacy Clause.

Article VI, Clause II of the Constitution states the following: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Did you get that, Joe? It’s the supreme law of the land, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding. That applies even when a county sheriff happens to disagree with the supreme law of the land in question. Arpaio says his attitude comes from a desire to defend the Constitution, but the Constitution already has a system for dealing with questionable legislation. It’s called the judiciary branch. That’s where decisions are made about whether a law is constitutional. If Obama’s gun bill is passed in Congress and signed into law, there’s a very simple way for Joe Arpaio to have a say in the matter of its constitutionality. He just needs to get appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until he does, the Constitution says he enforces federal law. Otherwise, he is in breach of oath and duty.

Of course, Joe Arpaio might soon have more important things to worry about. The recall campaign organizers who successfully removed former Senate President Russell Pierce from office in 2011 have filed paperwork to get an Arpaio recall on the ballot in 2013. We meet again, Sheriff; perhaps for the last time.

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