The centuries-old office of sheriff might still save America from sliding into tyranny. Today an activist explained that at a bimonthly meeting of the Constitution Party of New Jersey.
Frank Cottone has worked on his Sheriff Project for many years. Today at the Town and Country Inn in Keyport, NJ, he explained it to twenty-two fellow activists. Cottone, a resident of Monmouth County, ran against Sheriff Shaun Golden in 2010. He later decided, and told CNAV, that Golden’s “heart is in the right place,” and he understands the Constitutional role a sheriff plays.
Instead of our spinning our wheels, and strategizing, and getting nowhere, this…plan…will get results. People can now use the sheriff’s office – not “department” – to get results.
What is a sheriff?
The word sheriff, or shirriff, is a short form of the phrase Shire-Reeve. A reeve at first was an administrative officer of the crown. Beginning with William the Conqueror, the word reeve came to mean the managing steward of a manor. A Shire-Reeve administered a shire, called a county on the continent. Today an American sheriff is the chief legal officer in an American county.
Frank Cottone told his fellow activists something that some of them didn’t seem to know. No such thing as a Sheriff’s “Department” exists. A sheriff holds his office by vote of the people, not by appointment. A sheriff answers only to the people who voted for him. He does not answer to any higher official. What he says, goes. No one – not the county executive, not the governor, not even the President of the United States – can interfere with him. (During the meeting, Cottone cited a sheriff in Kentucky who refused to let US Federal troops march through his county during the War Between the States.)
Cottone identified two sheriffs in New Jersey who seem to understand their role:
Cottone wants to educate the other nineteen New Jersey sheriffs about their role.
A landmark case
Frank Cottone has been working on his Sheriff Project for three years. Photo: CNAV/Essex County Conservative Examiner
Cottone dwelt on the case of Printz v. United States. In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Act. That Act gets its name from James Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan. John W. Hinckley III, who tried to kill Reagan, shot Brady in the head before the Secret Service could wrestle him down. Brady’s wife Sarah has sought ever since to take the guns out of the hands of every citizen except a law-enforcement officer or active-duty military service member.
The Brady Act tried to force local law-enforcement officers to:
Collect background information on anyone applying for a permit to own or carry a gun, and,
Report that information to federal authorities.
Sheriffs Jay Printz of Ravalli County, MT, and Richard Mack of Graham County, AZ, refused. They not only refused; they sued the government to stop it from “[pressing] them into federal service.” The Supreme Court, in 1997, agreed that Congress has no such authority. No earlier federal law had ever asked a State or local executive to do anything for the federal government. (The one exception, the Extradition Act of 1793, merely repeated the order in Article IV that State governors must send back criminal suspects who flee from one State to another.) The Court also found that the Constitution set up a system of dual sovereignty. Under that, States are still sovereign, and are not mere provinces. (A province is literally a conquered territory; from the Latin pro- and vinco, vincere, vici, victum to conquer.)
Sheriff Printz seems to have quietly welcomed the decision of the Court. But Sheriff Mack speaks often, and writes, about the Printz case and on the broader issue of the Constitution and the sheriff’s role in protecting it.
Cottone also sought to warn people that “progressive, non-Constitutional, fraudulent people in our government” care nothing about people’s rights, or the outcome of any case. He suggested that America is one Supreme Court decision away from a loss of rights, because a liberal Justice would not bind himself to a decision by the Court in any earlier case. He accused Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan of a willingness to set aside precedent for the sake of a “progressive” agenda.
They don’t respect common law. They don’t respect the outcome of [earlier] cases. They have an agenda to change all that.
Can a governor appoint a sheriff?
Cottone told CNAV of a rumor he heard at the meeting: that Governor Chris Christie planned to appoint a replacement sheriff in Ocean County. Recently, Sheriff William Polhemus died after serving nine terms. The reporter covering the death wrote this:
His immediate successor will be appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, said county Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little. A new sheriff would then be elected in November, he said.
Cottone denounced Christie as
either ignorant or deliberately trying to undermine the office of sheriff.
A sheriff, he said, does not answer to a governor. To let a governor appoint a temporary sheriff would set a bad precedent. (Cottone had not heard about Christie’s plan at the time of this interview.)