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Wisconsin Spotlight | Dec. 14, 2020

Across the country, government officials are tightening and reimposing curfews, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and other restrictions as COVID-19 numbers climb. But with public patience over lockdowns wearing thin, many individuals and local authorities openly reject rules that drive people to poverty and despair. County sheriffs in California, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and elsewhere say they’ll have nothing to do with enforcement efforts and spar with governors who resent such independence.

It’s the rebellious spirit of the earlier sanctuary city and Second Amendment sanctuary movements, amplified by the pressures of the pandemic into an eruption of what some legal scholars call “punitive federalism.” Get used to it, because our politically polarized era offers fresh soil for such dictates and defiance.

California’s revolt is especially widespread. “All told, over a third of Californians live in a county with a sheriff promising not to enforce the governor’s stay-at-home order,” Reason‘s Christian Britschgi pointed out this week. Ironically, when Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to withhold funds from jurisdictions that ignore his dictates, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco snapped back that the governor was behaving just like President Trump, who California’s elected officials have criticized for using money in an effort to extract compliance.

“These more recent conflicts represent more than ‘uncooperative federalism,'” Richard Schragger of the University of Virginia School of Law wrote earlier this year. “What has emerged instead is something that could be called ‘punitive federalism’—a regime in which the periphery disagrees with or attempts to work around the center and the center seeks to punish those who do so, not just rein them in.”

But Schragger referred not to battles over pandemic lockdowns, but to conflicts between state governments imposing restrictions on firearms and self-defense rights and localities that refuse to enforce them. He saw the inspiration for such revolts in earlier resistance by sanctuary cities against federal immigration rules.

“The Second Amendment sanctuaries movement borrows from the language and rhetoric of the immigrants’ rights movement,” he added. “Insofar as the enforcement of state and federal law often depends on the cooperation of local officials, the movement also deploys some of the same strategies: passive non-cooperation, indirect resistance, and rhetorical disobedience.”

In both cases, localities resisted rules imposed further up the political food chain that conflicted with dominant local values.

Read more at Reason. 

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