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Of cows and the Constitution: The Bundy vs. BLM dispute

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Federal mess: Cliven Bundy, right, talks with militia-type volunteers at the family ranch near Bunkerville Sunday.
Photo: Steve Marcus

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” Through countless repetitions—hands over heart, voices imparting a melodic lilt—those words have been ingrained in the heads of children across Nevada for years. Apparently the Bundy clan missed the message. Or dismissed it.

Last Monday, Gold Butte rancher Cliven Bundy stood at the center of a “range war” that has been building for more than 20 years and drew hundreds of supporters and armed militiamen to the area north of Las Vegas. The real issue: Bundy’s cattle, which have been grazing illegally on federally protected desert tortoise habitat, and the $1.2 million settlement he owes the BLM for unpaid grazing fees. The issue scrawled across banners in Bunkerville: all-caps FREEDOM—from the federal government, its laws and the agencies charged with enforcing them. “I abide by all state laws,” Bundy told the LA Times last year. “But I abide by almost zero federal laws.”

However, as the Atlantic pointed out, the rancher’s state-focused stance misses a crucial section of a crucial document—the Nevada Constitution. Article 1, Section 2 reads: “... 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; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.”

In other words, “I pledge allegiance to the flag ...”

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