Sheriff Scott Jenkins
Scott Jenkins, sheriff of Culpeper County, Va., is one of a large number of so-called ‘constitutional sheriffs’ in the U.S. (Image courtesy Jeff Hulbert and YouTube)
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By Mirya Holman, Tulane University and Emily Farris, Texas Christian University

A gun control law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois in January 2023 immediately faced opposition from a group key to the law’s enforcement: sheriffs. They are county-level, locally elected public officials who run jails, provide courthouse security, and, in many counties, are the primary providers of law enforcement services.

In Illinois, and around the nation, some sheriffs also view themselves as the ultimate defenders of the U.S. Constitution and its rights – even though there’s no law and no history giving them that position.

In Illinois, approximately 80 of the state’s 102 sheriffs oppose the Protect Illinois Communities Act, a law that banned the sale and distribution of “assault weapons,” high-capacity magazines and switches that convert firearms to “assault weapons.” Anyone who owned those items before the law passed in January 2023 must register them with the state. Most of the sheriffs who opposed it issued statements saying they believe the law violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore they will not be enforcing it.

Sheriff Justin Oliver of Brown County, for example, posted a public statement on the office’s Facebook page, on letterhead. The statement says he swore to protect the rights provided in the Constitution and he believes that the act violates the Second Amendment, so “as chief law enforcement officer for Brown County … neither myself nor my officers will be checking to ensure that lawful gun owners register their weapons with the State, nor will we be arresting or housing law abiding individuals.”

In our research surveying sheriffs, in 2012 and again in 2021, we have found that sheriffs are far more likely to support looser gun laws than the public at large. And we have also found that that perspective is linked to some sheriffs’ views that they are the highest level of defenders of the U.S. Constitution and Americans’ constitutional rights.

Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Sheriffs: Holman and Farris, 2021; Public: Pew Research Center, 2021

A last line of defense?

We traced sheriffs’ views of themselves as ultimate protectors of the Constitution to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a political organization founded in 2009 by Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona.

Mack first gained notoriety in right-wing circles as a plaintiff in Printz v. United States, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996. In its ruling, the court declared a portion of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act unconstitutional. The ruling said the law’s requirement for state and local officials to perform background checks on prospective gun buyers violated the 10th Amendment, which limits how much influence the federal government can have on state and local governments.

The association, which Mack founded after former President Barack Obama’s election, calls itself a network of (self-described) “constitutional sheriffs” that encourages sheriffs to refuse to enforce laws they believe to be unconstitutional and to resist overreach by the federal government.

Its key idea dates back further, though, to Posse Comitatus. That was a white supremacist, antisemitic right-wing movement in the 1970s that believed as part of its conspiratorial ideology that the county sheriff held the ultimate government authority in the United States. This view is not historically accurate, nor is it found in the U.S. Constitution.

Nevertheless, Mack and his organization have spent more than a decade actively recruiting and training sheriffs to believe that their office is more powerful than the president, and that they can reject laws they believe to be unconstitutional. Mack told NPR in 2019 that sheriffs “have the responsibility to interpose – it’s the ‘doctrine of interposition’ – whenever anybody is trying to diminish or violate the individual rights of our counties.”

Map: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Holman and Farris, from Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association data

Their own views

This movement of so-called “constitutional sheriffs” has been particularly successful at recruiting more sheriffs into its ideology around issues of guns, immigration and COVID-related policies.

The resistance in Illinois is not the first effort of sheriffs to resist gun control. When Obama pushed for national gun control legislation after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Mack’s group recruited more than 450 sheriffs and 19 state sheriff associations to oppose federal gun control efforts.

Similarly, when the state of Washington passed a gun safety measure in 2018, sheriffs statewide opposed the measure and threatened not to enforce it because they said it violated people’s constitutional rights.

And in Illinois, its followers continue to stand in the way of the law, even though they lack any legal justification for doing so. State and federal officials have called on Illinois sheriffs to enforce the law, as their oaths of office require. But many sheriffs continue to say they get to determine which laws to enforce, even if their constituents disagree.

The Conversation

Mirya Holman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Tulane University and Emily Farris, Associate Professor of Political Science, Texas Christian University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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  1. With Sheriffs contending that these laws violate the Constitution, one would anticipate those Sheriffs arresting those politicians pushing those laws. Now,THAT would be SWEET!!!

    • charge those perfidious “public officials” with felony perjury for failing ti keep the oaths they swore as they took office.
      Of course, they’d also need to have honest constitutional prose cutors to back them up.

        • XZX,

          Do you mean that our Leftist/fascist ‘brethren’ are a bunch of hypocritical liars?????? Say it ain’t so!!!

          And in other news, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and dacian is an uneducated moron.

          The bigger question is: What are we going to do about it? If you think Leftist/fascists like dacian the demented and MinorLiar are going to stop trying to infringe you inherent rights, unless FORCED to stop, you’ve been smokin’ that wacky tabacky.

          They have an agenda. They don’t give one shart about our inherent rights. The result is entirely predictable.

    • States could do this without the involvement of the federal government. States could easily issue arrest warrants for public officials that violate the rights of their citizens under color of law.

      DeSantis recently removed a Soros funded DA for not doing his job. I’d like to see more public officials stand trial for their attempts to infringe on our rights.

  2. “My” sheriff is pos Tom Dart. It blames law abiding gun owner’s for crime & not the gang lowlifes & DIMSCUM©. Often synonymous…

    • Tom Dart believes that only cops should have guns. Most of the people in Illinois who apply for a CCL and get a “law enforcement objection” are from Darts office in Cook county, he actually has deputies who scour CCL applications and flag them. More then 90% of his objections are overturned, it could be something on record that when you were 17 you were caught smoking a cigarette and issued a ticket.

      Smoking and the RIGHT to carry, what serious crime. The first CCL class I took was in Cook county and was taught by cops who worked in Cook. One of the first things taught was if there is anything on your “record” and live in Cook that it was probably going to be a bit longer because you were going to get “DARTED”. He’s one of few IL sheriffs who are all for Jabbas ban.

      Meanwhile a county over in Dupage there is Sheriff Mendrick. There is also a real nasty woman who sits as the head of the county seat, Deb Conroy. She WAS a state representative but with Madigan getting busted he was not able to throw millions into her re-election campaign. The Republicans ran a trust fund kid from Hinsdale and Conroy beat him.

      “The DuPage County Board, previously a Republican stronghold, is now made up of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans. During the board meeting last week, members spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to a move to censure Mendrick.” Because of Conroy so Mendrick also folded, “After clarifying that enforcing the assault weapons ban does not demand that “deputies go door to door seeking to remove weapons from those licensed to own them,” the statement said that Mendrick is committed to “enforcing all state and local laws.”

      Conroy and I have history, when she was a state rep she was looking at her phone and walked right front of my Jeep from a blind spot in a parking lot. I had to slam on the brakes and called her a very nasty word. There were 4 witnesses that would have testified that it was unavoidable but I pay enough in insurance as it is already. She just sneered at me. The Dem Senator is going to jail for taking bribes from the Teamster fund, he claimed he knew nothing about it but the FBI had a very solid video case on him actually cashing 20 checks at the bank, He claimed it was direct deposit and he didn’t notice. He took a plea and is going to Club Fed. Villa Park is messing up most of Dupage but I don’t care. I am going to spend more money then I wanted and take a hit on my house in Illinois and be done with the state that I was born and lived in for my entire life.

      I am sick that a billionaire privileged governor that never worked a day in his life with a super majority in both houses can just make up unconstitutional laws and his lackeys push them through. It’s not what 90% of the state wants but the Karens and Kens make a lot of noise. ” We cant have people with machine guns shooting people at parades”. Get a clue Karen and Ken, “Machine guns”?

      • Interesting reply Rob S…we’re planning a move east. We live a scant mile from Indiana. Unless you’re “connected” we have no reason to stay in ILLANNOY.

        • It’s actually cheaper to go west to Iowa. Lower taxes, cost of houses, much more square footage for the dollar. No lake Michigan water though.

          I wrote it before but I had a buyers broker in Indiana who worked for McColly real estate. I wrote contracts on three houses and this agent screwed me over three times. His problem was he was screwing everyone over and when he screwed over builders, they took care of him quickly. He no longer has Real Estate license and has a permanent limp from what I heard.

          I like Indiana due to it’s proximity but prices have doubled on homes. You have written that you were considering Hammond and you go to church there. My cousin is a Gary cop and says don’t, parts of Hammond can get pretty crazy at night. The house are sitting longer which will drive prices down but it’s still going to be a while. Watch out for flips, with no disclosure it could have been a meth lab. That’s the rumor about a bunch of houses in Portage. Good Luck but it’s definitely time to leave Illinois.

  3. It’s entirely constitutional.

    Sheriffs are law enforcement, which have sworn duty to uphold the constitution, among many other things.

    Violating the constitution is counter intuitive to that. Just because democrats enjoy violating the constitution and sheriffs don’t, does not mean their duty is now magically “imaginary”.

    • Additionally, the office of Sheriff is voted upon by the people within the vast majority of Counties or Townships. They directly represent the will of the People. Police Chiefs are appointed by municipal Mayors. State Highway Patrol Commissioners are appointed by Governors. They are beholden to the interests of the City/State, not the People.

      • “…the office of Sheriff is voted upon by the people within the vast majority of Counties or Townships.”

        This is very important if citizens wish to hold their LEOs accountable for their actions. Big city police chiefs are generally appointed by the often Leftist, progressive mayorwho expects loyalty to him/her/it rather than the people to whom the police are “sworn to protect and to serve”. A real change in actual law enforcement could occur if police chiefs were required to be elected by the masses rather than be appointed. I have to wonder how many police chiefs would endorse cashless bail, for example, if they didn’t have to cowtow to their boss,

  4. “But many sheriffs continue to say they get to determine which laws to enforce, even if their constituents disagree.”

    They aren’t doing that. They are basicslly simply saying they won’t enforce unconstitutional laws because they are illegal. You want the sheriff to enforce illegal laws ?

    the courts and SCOTUS have already ruled most of this Illinois law unconstitutional thus legal in other cases. Simply because the governor signs a bill and says they are law does not change the fact they are unconstitutional and illegal. For example, which part of ‘common use’ is confusing to you? The ‘constitutional’ sheriffs seem to understand its illegal to enforce illegal laws.

    • correction…”the courts and SCOTUS have already ruled most of this Illinois law unconstitutional thus legal in other cases.”

      should have been…

      in other cases the courts and SCOTUS have already ruled most of this Illinois law unconstitutional thus illegal.

    • a law that is repubgnant to the Constition is no law at all, null, void, and of none effect.
      Most all these Sheriffs have read and studied the US Constititon and know what it says, thus know our rights and responsibilities under that Cnstitution. thse guys are not “winging it”, they are faithful defencers of the Supreme Law of the Land.

      • Not in Los Angeles, unfortunately. We haven’t had a faithful Sheriff in decades, if ever. Not (current) Robert Luna (gun rights hater), not Alex Villanueva (flip flopped on rights), not Jim McDonnell (A very disappointing R), not Lee Baca (sentenced to prison in disgrace), not Sherman Block (was ruled liable for violations of constitutional rights, while being the highest paid elected official in the entire U.S. during his term), not…

        …you get the picture. Los Angeles is not a place where the Constitution is revered.

  5. “Its key idea dates back further, though, to Posse Comitatus. That was a white supremacist, antisemitic right-wing movement in the 1970s that believed as part of its conspiratorial ideology that the county sheriff held the ultimate government authority in the United States”

    thats a very gross mischaracterization, disingenuous, and although a ‘group’ may have involved it in some way that in its self was not the foundation. The foundation lays in that that sherrifs swear an oath to uphold the constitution.

  6. Lemme ‘splain my perspective:

    Every office holder in this nation swears an oath when they are put into office, whether by election, appointment, commissioning, warrant, or even enlisting as an enlisted person. We’ve all sworn to defend, protect, and uphold the constitution of the United States.

    When some arsewipe at the state capitol forgets, or fails to understand, his oath, none of us are obligated to obey his, her, or their edicts.

    Respects to those sheriffs who tell state legislators to go pack sand. I’ll stand with them, if and when the time comes.

  7. Most sheriffs are conservative Christians, and many of them are figuring out what time it is,( see earlier post today). As defenders of states rights, they should be our allies in resisting one world government.

    • As I recall Oath keepers started out years ago as a Sheriff & military based org. For those concerned about the illegal (Unconstitutional) activities of fedgov. Obviously the progs can’t stand for such ideas.

  8. There is precedent for their position. I don’t have references, but I remember two cases from the late 1980s or so where a federal judge ruled that the authority of the county sheriff superseded the authority of federal agents because the sheriff was the representative of both the state and of the people. One was a case where the local sheriff had put up DO NOT ENTER tape and a sign stating this was under the authority of the sheriff, with contact information, yet federal agents ignored the line and sign — and a deputy arrested them. The judge ruled that federal agents MUST obey such lawful notices by the local sheriff and indeed should always clear operations with the sheriff before acting on a crime scene. The agents, as I recall, got escorted out of the county and then started over, this time calling the sheriff and nicely asking for cooperation.
    The other case involved sheriff’s deputies refusing federal agents access to a crime scene and when the agents got aggressive about their authority they were escorted from the premises. The ruling was pretty much the same and the agents instructed to start over and do it right.

    I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking for these cases; I’m pretty sure the first one was in Wyoming and the other in a western state as well, but that’s not much to go on.

    As for standing up to the state legislatures… well, they’re also representatives of the state and of the people, so that’s a wash as far as that angle goes. But that makes me wonder: what oaths do state legislature critters take?

    What a surprise (not): I looked at the State of Oregon website and it looks like it was designed to keep citizens from learning anything about the government.

    • Roymond,

      My strictly intuitive take on Sheriffs and why they may very well be the ultimate law enforcement and peace officer authority:

      The office of Sheriff is a holdover from England (and thus Common Law?) from several hundred years ago. And the office of Sheriff was to enforce the Supreme Law of the Land–which was the “Sovereign”, a.k.a. the King or Queen in jolly old England.

      Of course the United States of America eliminated–in its entirety–the concept of royalty (including Kings and Queens) being the “sovereign” of the land and supplanted them with “We the People” as the “sovereign” of the land. Thus, while the office of Sheriff is still beholden (via Common Law?) to the “sovereign”, the new “sovereign” is “We the People” AND the United States Constitution AND our state constitutions (in any respective state), rather than royalty or some government agent/body.

      If that simple premise and substitution is correct, then county Sheriffs really are the ultimate law enforcement and peace officer authority. Of course underpinning my analysis above is the FACT that we ARE indeed a Common Law nation–much to the chagrin of various government agents/bodies who wish to have and exercise unlimited and whimsical power.

  9. The State and the Feds will simply get rid of Sheriffs who refuse to do their jobs, one way or another. Its that simple.

    Herr Drumpfs jackbooted sweetheart racist Nazi Sheriff did not last long in office either.

    • dacian, the DUNDERHEAD, for your edification, a Sheriff is an ELECTED official and can only be removed from office for malfeasance. They took an oath to uphold the US and their respective state’s constitutions. Neither the Feds nor any state would have legal grounds to remove the sheriffs.
      Seems, it is you Lefties who are the Nazis. Remember the roots of Nazism and Fascism are in Socialism.

    • dacian the demented dips***,

      The State and the Feds will simply get rid of Sheriffs who refuse to do their jobs, one way or another. Its that simple.”

      Well, dacianthe demented, you would know “simple” if anyone would; you’ve been ‘simple’ your entire, pathetic life. But, just perhaps, to educate the rest of us, explain the legal process by which “[t]he State and the Feds” would “get rid of” Sheriffs who uphold their oath by refusing to enforce PATENTKLY unconstitutional laws??? Oh, and while you’re at it, go ahead and explain why 2d Amendment ‘sanctuary counties’ are violations of law, but immigration ‘sactuary jurisdictions’ are not.

      Go ahead, dipshit, we’ll wait.

  10. Which Sheriff or Sheriffs are going to arrest Pritzker or the pinko legislators that passed these Unconstitutional laws?

  11. Funny how just a few decades ago sheriffs – especially those in the South – were considered by the Left to be near subhuman for enforcing state segregation laws. Laws that were, for nearly their entirety, un-Constitutional. Guess that, like some animals, there are those that are more un-Constitutional than others…

  12. Dont worry sheriff my gunm rights are right close by, I ain’t dying in no nursing home.
    Getting old does have a few advantages. Ive lived a good life, lived in America when it was America, seen just about everything a human cares to see and then some.
    Dont worry about my gunm rights. Worry about my children’s.

  13. Comment waiting moderation, well that’s better then it just disappearing like its been doing
    I’m a very flexible person and very hard to anger however this sneaky code we’ve got to through to get our post to post is quite exasperating. Almost to the point of saying Adios Coyote Bitch. If ttag doesn’t want me here I’m sure I can cry myself to sleep over it.

      • possum,
        A couple of weeks ago I went through the same nonsense, most of my posts were waiting moderation and then I would hit post and nothing, comment disappeared.
        It was like I was wasting my time. I think it’s a glitch but it will pass.
        Calm down, we need your interesting take on things but yeah it’s very annoying to have an opinion, keep it clean and still get moderated or no posted.

  14. dacian, the DUNDERHEAD, for your edification, a Sheriff is an ELECTED official and can only be removed from office for malfeasance. They took an oath to uphold the US and their respective state’s constitutions. Neither the Feds nor any state would have legal grounds to remove the sheriffs.
    Seems, it is you Lefties who are the Nazis. Remember the roots of Nazism and Fascism are in Socialism.

    • Walter you are about the dumbest hillbilly on the forum.

      The Sheriff does not have the option of determining if a law is constitutional or even fair and when they refuse to do their job they can be booted out of office by their handlers without being voted out of office. A variety of charges could be leveled against them. In other words you cannot fight city hall because they will find a dozen different ways to remove you from office if they so desire or find it necessary for the safety of the public.

      Your idea that the Sheriff is all powerful and a law unto himself is both childish and moronic.

      And as far as being voted out of office Trumps darling Nazi Sheriff was annihilated by the news media when they exposed what he had been doing. He got his Nazi ass trashed at election time. And remember just one mass murder because a Sheriff refused to uphold the law would be curtains for his political career and they all know it. Do not believe the rectum gas Sheriffs say but what they end up doing to keep their jobs.

      • Hey, dacian the demented sips***,

        Ever heard of the concept of “discretion” in re: enforcement AND prosecution of alleged legal violations?? Nah, didn’t think so. And ONCE AGAIN, describe EXACTLY the legal procedure you think would apply to ‘removing’ such Sheriffs, how it would work, and how you would enforce it.

        Ah, you have no idea, do you?

        You remain too incredibly stupid to insult.

      • dacian, the DUNDERHEAD, you bring STUPID a whole brand new meaning. A Sheriff as does all Law Enforcement Officers takes an OATH OF OFFICE in which he states that he swears to defend the Constitution of the US and his state. A sheriff in good conscience cannot enforce a law which he KNOWS is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
        And just what and or who are the Sheriff’s “handlers”? Last I heard the VOTERS are the Sheriffs ultimate bosses?
        The Sheriff you were referring to was Joe Arpaio. He was NOT removed from office but was in fact defeated in an election in a county of Arizona in which the Board of Elections is suspected of election shenanigans in a state where the Secretary of State who was a candidate for Governor ordered counties to “certify the election”. Doesn’t that smack of CONFLICT OF INTEREST to even a nitwit as dumb as you?

  15. A “constitutionalist” sheriff in VA? That’s an oxymoron?

    If Sheriffs did their job, a “commonwealth” wouldn’t even exist.

  16. This author is ignorant or disingenuous.

    The 10th amendment doesn’t limit influence of the fed over the states. The feds can try to influence states all day long. The 10th, correctly enforced as the Supreme law of the land, protects the rights and power of the states and the people where the limited authorities delegated to the fed stops.

    The fed willingly violating the tenth and states allowing it just means criminal activity has been committed by the feds and the states do not have the gonads to arrest all the fed agents within their borders who violate the Constitution.

    The movement of states making it illegal for state and subdivision personnel and resources to be used to assist the fed in their unconstitutional overreach is a good start.

    Next should be laws making it easier for citizens to make citizens arrests of feds and others engaged in illegal activity and for state, county or local law enforcement to complete the arrest process and prosecutors to assist in criminal cases or civil rights lawsuits on the behalf of citizens whose rights were violated, or attempted to be violated.

    Sheriffs are not the ultimate defenders of rights. We all are. Having the backing of sheriffs is nice, but they can be voted out of office and the next one could be a wanna be Nero.

    We need city councils and county commisioners courts full of rights advocates to help back up enforcement of the Constitution against all violators of it at the local, county, state or federal level.

  17. I know there are people who believe that a national divorce would never happen. I have noticed a lot of those people are alos proud of not voting.
    They will be the ones who are wondering why bullets are flying around them very soon. Because they took no interest in ensuring that they had a Sheriff, who would support the constitution. Instead of supporting the tyrannical laws that are recently being passed.

  18. fyi

    “When Your Sheriffs Tell the ATF to Go Pound Sand. (We Love Arkansas).” video 11 min long

  19. I would say since the sheriff is an elected position, let the people decide if they want to support a sheriff who takes the stance that he cannot violate his oath of office. Gee, don’t you wish politicians would uphold theirs?

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