Nevada has recently been the focus of a Constitutional debate resulting from the standoff between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Cliven Bundy and his supporters. In the beginning of April 2014, the BLM and National Park Service (NPS) shut down an area to allow cowhands using vehicles and helicopters to round up 900 cattle belonging to Bundy. The BLM claimed that the cattle are trespassing on federal land and Bundy owes more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
The dispute dates back nearly two decades. In 1998, a Las Vegas federal judge ordered Bundy to remove his trespassing cattle from federal land. The BLM revoked Bundy’s grazing rights when he stopped paying grazing fees; however, Bundy continued to allow his cattle to graze on the federal land without a permit. Despite the federal judge’s order and multiply subsequent court orders, Bundy refused to comply. In support of his decision to allow his cattle to graze on the land without paying grazing fees, Bundy claimed that he does not recognize federal authority over land he believes belongs to the state of Nevada. Bundy frequently appealed to the Constitution of what he believes is his right to graze cattle on the lands.
Unfortunately, Bundy’s Constitutional arguments are misguided as the actual text of the Constitution gives the federal government the “Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” Art. IV, § 3. Accordingly, the fact that the Constitution is actually unhelpful to Bundy is the reason why his arguments have failed several times in court, and the BLM has been successful in obtaining several orders against him. In support of his claim that the land actually belongs to the state of Nevada, Bundy argues that he has not violated any Nevada laws. However, the Nevada Constitution provides no support for Bundy’s argument. In fact, the state of Nevada never owned the lands. The Ordinance in Nevada’s Constitution provides, in pertinent part, that the Nevada citizens “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States . . . .” Further, Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution states: “But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Despite its legal right and efforts to round up Bundy’s cattle, the BLM decided to cancel its operation after tensions between Bundy’s supporters and the federal government escalated. The BLM cited concerns about the safety of its employees as well as the public. However, the BLM vowed that it would continue to pursue its legal fight and resolve the matter administratively and judicially.