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Armed standoff in Nevada may well be treason

You can see and download a copy of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives.
You can see and download a copy of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives.
Photo by Alex Wong

Cliven Bundy and a group of his armed followers have taken up arms against the federal government (in the form of the Bureau of Land Management, a legitimate arm of that government). It may well be that this action is treasonous under the Constitution that Mr. Bundy carries around in his pocket.

If you haven’t actually read the Constitution of the United States, you may not realize that it-- along with the laws and treaties created under it-- is the “supreme law of the land.” This is known as the “supremacy clause.” Here’s the actual wording, found in Article VI, Paragraph 2:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuit thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Under this clause, laws made by Congress and signed by the president (or passed by overriding a president’s veto) are binding on the entire country unless either a subsequent Congress or the Supreme Court revokes them. (Article II of the Constitution outlines how a bill becomes a law.)

When the state of Nevada joined the Union, it agreed to be bound by the terms of the U.S. Constitution, including the supremacy clause. The state, by the way, can-- under Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution-- call upon the federal government to protect it against domestic violence.

Article IV, Section 3, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution says that “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States....” Laws regarding the Bureau of Land Management were passed by Congress and have not been revoked or overridden. Failure to abide by them makes you an outlaw, not a patriot.

Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress can provide for “calling forth the Militia, to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions,” which means that the National Guard can be called upon to enforce the laws against those in armed rebellion. The president is the Commander in Chief “of the Militia of the ... States, when called into actual Service of the United States.” So if the government called out the Guard against Bundy its actions would be legal.

The United States Constitution is a legal document. The government created by it is, as a result, based on law. Those who win elections get to make the laws. If you don’t like a law, you elect enough people to change it. Otherwise, you abide by it. That’s how the system works.

When you break the law, you are a criminal. When you stand in armed rebellion against the enforcement of the law, your actions may well be treasonous. According to Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution, “Treason against the United States, shall consist ... in levying War against them....” which includes taking up arms against the legal representatives of the U.S. government. Conviction requires “the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act,” but when the act is televised, there are a lot more than two witnesses.