Today, LDF sent a letter outlining the growing threat of “Constitutional Sheriffs” to our multi-racial democracy to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. The letter builds on a previous letter LDF sent in September urging the Department of Justice to further its efforts to address the threat of law enforcement officials with ties to anti-governmental and white nationalist groups.
The letter highlights our concern that the “constitutional sheriffs” movement is growing, and members believe, wrongly, that they are the highest authority in their county and can interpret the constitution. They believe their law enforcement powers extend and supersede any agent, officer, elected official or employee within their county or jurisdiction. The letter details how sheriffs are threatening to engage in voter intimidation and election interference tactics. Many associated groups have promoted disinformation regarding the 2020 election. Sheriffs are also being sought out to criminalize people who provide access to books that permit learning about structural racism, sexism, and LGBTQ identities.
The “constitutional sheriffs” movement began in the 1970s with roots in white supremacy but has recently seen rapid growth and expansion. As the “constitutional sheriffs” movement grows, so does its influence and threat to our multi-racial democracy. The belief that sheriffs do not have to enforce any laws they deem unconstitutional is core to the “constitutional sheriffs” movement.
The letter lays out recommendations that the Department of Justice should undertake to counteract the threats posed by constitutional sheriffs. Recommendations include:
The Department should publish guidance clearly and explicitly rejecting the position that sheriffs hold a special place in our constitutional order granting them supremacy over all other authorities to decide a law’s constitutionality within their county.
The Department’s Civil Rights Division should use its multiple levers to mitigate the threats posed by constitutional sheriffs. It should convene an intra-Division working group to assess whether individual sheriffs’ actions violate federal laws enforced by the Division’s sections.
The Department should exercise its convening power and influence with law enforcement associations to urge law enforcement groups to reject the ideas and practices promoted by the constitutional sheriffs movement and affiliated organizations that threaten to undermine the ability of Black and Brown communities to participate in core functions of a multiracial democracy, including voting and education.
The Department should use the levers within the President’s May 25, 2022 Executive Order 14074 (“Order”) to mitigate the anti-governmental practices of sheriffs.
The Department should address the threat of constitutional sheriffs and recruitment of law enforcement by white nationalist groups discussed in our September 13, 2022 letter to the Attorney General through interagency policy committees mentioned above or developed following the administration’s United We Stand summit.
Read the full letter here.
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.