During Tuesday’s Moffat County Commission meeting, Rick Barnes, a Republican candidate for the commission’s District 2 seat, asked the current board to sign a resolution protecting habeas corpus and civil liberties in Moffat County.
Habeas corpus is a legal principle that safeguards individual freedoms against arbitrary imprisonment by the state.
The resolution was motivated by the passage of U.S. Senate Bill 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which was signed into law Dec. 31, 2011 by President Barack Obama.
“This is basically stating to the federal government that when they make laws that trample on the Constitution, you, as commissioners, and Mr. (Tim) Jantz, as sheriff, are not going to take it,” Barnes said.
The Act, which encompasses 682 pages and countless subsections, authorized $662 billion in military funding for national security programs including Department of Defense health care costs, counter terrorism operations at home and abroad, and military modernization, among others.
The bill was a hotly debated by Congress and in the public, specifically in regards to Sections 1021 and 1022 under the Title X clause regarding counter terrorism.
Sections 1021 and 1022 affirm the president’s authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by Congress in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The AUMF provides the president with the authority to use the military to arrest and indefinitely detain, without due process, anyone suspected of supporting a terrorist organization, engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, or commits a “belligerent act” against the U.S.
Critics of the Act, including the American Civil Liberties Union, worry the president could broadly interpret the words “belligerent act” to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens who speak out against administrative policies, which would be a violation of free speech rights as protected by the U.S. Constitution.
So far Weld and El Paso counties have adopted similar resolutions, and the State of Virginia recently passed legislation protecting its citizens from potential civil liberty violations, Barnes said.
“By signing this, we’re letting the federal government know that we’re not going to let them come into our county and implement these two sections of the NDAA against our community,” Barnes said.
Commissioner Audrey Danner invited Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz to join the discussion as the county’s law enforcement representative.
She asked Jantz if he has experience dealing with “push back” from law enforcement officers at the federal level.
“The federal government has the tendency to do executive orders or certain acts that would supposedly supercede our directives here,” Jantz said. “I’m not going to abide by that. I wasn’t elected by the entire nation. I was elected by the people of Moffat County to uphold their rights under the Constitution, and I will continue to do so.”
Jantz cited a recent example in which a representative from the U.S. Department of Labor informed local authorities they were planning to apprehend a local resident without a duly active warrant.
“I basically told him, in no uncertain terms, that they were not or I would arrest them for criminal trespass under the state law,” Jantz said. “He told me I couldn’t do that and I basically told him ‘yes I will and you can’t stop me because you are violating the U.S. Constitution.’”
Jantz said there are certain provisions in place that give the president and the governor the authority to temporarily suspend the Constitution during emergencies to protect citizens.
For example, Gov. John Hickenlooper could declare martial law and order the National Guard to take control of Moffat County during a time of crisis, Jantz said.
“The question is whether they have the legal authority to do that,” Jantz said. “I think it’s been proven over and over again that they do…to a limit.
“The perception at the federal level is we are the government and we have the power. Sometimes this document, and others, say we are the citizens and we control the government, not vice a versa.”
Commissioner Tom Mathers offered a motion that the county adopt the resolution as presented.
Commissioner Tom Gray joined Mathers in passing it by a vote of 2-1.
“I don’t have a problem with this,” Gray said. “It never hurts to restate what you believe.”
Danner decided to exercise her civil liberty to oppose the motion and questioned whether this type of a resolution was necessary.
“We talked about upholding the Constitution when I first came on as a county commissioner and I take that extremely seriously, as you have probably seen in my actions,” Danner said. “I absolutely do that and I have no intention of stopping.
“I am opposed only for the reason that this is something we already do.”
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