For weeks now, people all across the country have been debating the nature and protection of private property in America; this is a good thing. At the same time, too many have propped-up Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as a poster boy for private property rights; this is clearly not the case. Nevertheless, while I think Cliven Bundy’s case is more complicated than some want to make it, I still agree with the Governor of Texas that the federal government and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are “out of control.” Governor Perry’s comments aren’t about Bundy’s case in Nevada; it looks like the BLM is eyeing private land in the Lone Star State to try and expand its public land holdings.
The border between the states of Texas and Oklahoma is established by the flow of the Red River between their territories. From time-to-time, this river’s flow is slightly altered – as is the case with any river- and the boundary between the states of Texas and Oklahoma shifts along with it. This boundary line has shifted in the past, and the BLM has seized private property in such instances. Since the last boundary line determination, the Red River has shifted northerly, thus expanding Texas’ northern border. As with the last boundary debate, the federal BLM has made statements indicating it may seize the land in dispute along the border – approximately 90,000 acres- that are presently privately owned.
The past and potential seizure of private property in Texas by the BLM raises two critical questions: 1.) why does a shifting state boundary line negate a private owner’s right to his or her deeded private property holdings? 2.) why would land on a border between two sovereign US states automatically become the property of the federal government instead of becoming the territory of one of the respective states? The BLM’s actions seemingly undermine private citizens’ private property rights, 4th Amendment protections against “unreasonable search and seizure without due process,” and states’ rights. Such unconstitutional overreaches by the BLM are just the latest examples of a federal government that is, in the words of Texas Governor Rick Perry “out of control.” In fact, the Governor’s full quote on the potential federal land grab says it all: “are we gonna go re-litigate every piece of private property in this country because we have a federal government that’s out-of-control?”
While I frankly think that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is wrong with regard to not paying his required rent on legitimately BLM land for over 20 years, on property that he never owned, I think this entire situation in Nevada is out-of-hand. Cliven Bundy’s past disparaging remarks on race, particularly against African-Americans, seems to be part and parcel of his bizarre behavior and seeming lawlessness that has made a bad situation worse. As a result, I certainly don’t think Bundy should be glorified as an example of a patriot fighting for property rights. At the same time, however, the federal response involving sniper rifles, “First Amendment Zones,” and para-military forces is absolutely uncalled for and unnecessary. Dealing with Bundy’s delinquent rent doesn’t require turning Nevada into a militarized zone occupied by federal forces. Mr. Bundy’s actions are unacceptable, but so, too, is the heavy-handed federal response.
That being said, the BLM’s actions with regard to Texas are nothing short of naked aggression and outright overreach. Ever since the US Supreme Court effectively destroyed the sanctity of private property rights and protections with its disastrous Kelo vs. New London decision in 2006, private property has become more imperiled in every corner of this country. It is now up to states to defend the private property of their citizens against an ever-encroaching federal government. I’m glad to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are doing just that by challenging the Bureau of Land Management. I now look forward to South Carolina joining the battle for the private property rights of our state’s citizens, and the rights of citizens in other states.
We don’t need to build-up a clearly unbalanced rancher in Nevada, but we don’t have to fixate on Cliven Bundy to realize that there’s a very real battle for private property protections in America.