91 Update: Pizza and Politics 2/17
Interpretations of the United States Constitution and modern land issues was the topic of Wednesday’s Pizza and Politics hosted by the Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service.
The debate topic stemmed from the recent standoff in Oregon between the Federal Government and a group of armed men.
In early January the men occupied the Malheur Wildlife Reserve near Burns, Oregon demanding the government relinquish control of the land and release two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of federal arson charges in 2001.
The men cited Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution and the 10th amendment as there grounds for the occupation, and the opening question for the conversation was whether or not the federal government has the right to own the reserve land at all. Merrill Heaton, a junior communication major from Hooper, said according to the constitution, they did not.
“Barack Obama and the federal government have overstepped their bounds according to the constitution,” Heaton said. “You cannot pick and choose what you want to follow (in the constitution).”
The other side of the issue is that several court cases settled through the property clause of the Constitution have established a precedent that the Federal Government does have a right to the land. While some students felt this was unconstitutional, Matthew Christiansen, a senior psychology major, said it depended on the person reading the constitution.
“An individual doesn’t have the authority to interpret the constitution for everybody else, it’s left to the judicial system,” Christiansen said. “If the courts are consistently saying the federal government does have the authority under the constitution to hold this land, then it’s constitutional.”
Several of the people who commented felt despite the court cases, the federal government did not have a right to the land.
Much of the conversation focused on the balance between state and federal owned lands. Currently, 70 percent of Utah’s public lands are owned by the federal government, and that number is similar in many Western states. Leavitt Center Executive Council Member Clay Clozier asked the audience if they felt the states would properly manage the land if the federal government gave it to them. David Nelson, a senior general studies major from Kanab said some states would and some might not.
“I would rather trust 50 different states to try and get things done right rather than one single giant state,” he said.
The conversation then moved to whether or not the militia, which called themselves the “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom,” had a right to take over the land. The group in part took over the land because of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two rangers who were convicted of terrorism for burning public lands when a controlled burn on their land burned federal land as well.
The Hammonds were suppose to serve a minimum 5 year sentence, but were instead given less time because the first federal judged to hear the case thought the minimum sentence was too harsh. However, in 2015, an appellate court ruled that the men had to go back and serve their mandatory sentence.
For the most part the audience agreed the the Oregon militia were justified in their cause, even if they could have approached the situation in a different way.
For anyone interested in attending, Pizza and Politics covers new topics every Wednesday at noon in the Leavitt Center.