The Justice Department has sued a rural Nevada county in an effort to blunt a states’ rights movement in Idaho, Nevada and three other Western states and halt intimidation of federal employees.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, claims officials of Nye County, north of Las Vegas, have used intimidation and threats against federal workers in an effort to claim jurisdiction over federal land.
The county passed a resolution in 1993 claiming that the state of Nevada, not the United States, owns national forests and other lands, giving Nye officials the authority to manage the lands. A later resolution claimed ownership of virtually every road on federal lands within the county.
The federal government owns or manages 87 percent of the land in Nevada.
Rachel Nicholson, Nye County deputy district attorney, said the actions by the county in 1993 were resolutions, not ordinances, and carry no weight of law.
But the federal lawsuit seeks to strike down the two resolutions as a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and also seeks a permanent injunction preventing the county or any of its officials from implementing the resolutions.
John Schmidt, associate U.S. attorney general, said in a telephone interview from Washington that the move was designed to blunt similar movements in Nevada, California, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon.
He said the government is seeking to “put to rest the idea that any county has the right to enact laws to override the Constitution.”
Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, a leader in the “County Supremacy Movement,” welcomed the lawsuit.
“This will bring it to a head,” Carver said. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Schmidt said the suit was filed against officials in Nye County because federal workers in that county had been threatened and intimidated by county officials.
The legal action is the latest salvo in what has been billed as “Sagebrush Rebellion II,” efforts in Western states to claim rights to land owned by the federal government.
Officials in 35 counties have passed measures claiming the right to federal land, but in most cases, “nothing has happened beyond the county commission enacting an ordinance, then going out to dinner,” Schmidt said.
Nye County officials have been more strident, federal officials say.
Kathryn Landreth, U.S. attorney for Nevada, said Nye County “threw down the gauntlet when it authorized bulldozing on the forest and threatened Forest Service employees with federal charges.
“We cannot let county officials use their offices to violate the law and mislead their constituents regarding federal law. The actions of county officials could serve to incite further inappropriate behavior.”
Meanwhile, the Sonora (Calif.) Union Democrat reported Wednesday that the U.S. Forest Service plans to issue information cards advising all employees of applicable federal laws and who to contact if they are confronted or arrested by local authorities.