Sagebrush Rebellion: A futile gesture in the face of Washington bureaucracy?

On Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 148, the latest volley in the long-running skirmish known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.

The bill demands the United States extinguish title to federally occupied lands — about two-thirds of the state — and transfer title to the state of Utah on or before Dec. 31, 2014. I prefer the term “occupied” to controlled or owned.

One major flaw with the bill is that it agrees ahead of time to pay the federal government 95 percent of the proceeds of any land sale to private parties. If a legal argument is to be made that the sovereign state of Utah should never have had the lands extorted from it as condition of statehood, then no tribute to the occupier is necessary.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert

The state’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel also practically throws in the towel with a legal note attached to the bill saying the Supreme Court has stated the Constitution grants Congress power over territory without limitation and cites the Supremacy Clause.

But the better argument to be made is one Nevada and other states have been arguing for years: The Equal Footing Doctrine.

The New York Times touches on this concept in an article today without ever using the phrase.

The paper quotes Al Melvin, a Republican state senator as saying, “If you look at a map of the United States, all the states in the East are private land. That’s why many of them are doing so well — it’s private land in Texas and North Dakota where they’re drilling for oil and fracking for gas. … The 50 states are separate but not equal.”

The argument today should be that the president lied when he said Oct. 31, 1864:

“Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

The same can be said for Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and Montana — all of which were required to “disclaim” sovereignty over the unappropriated lands inside their borders as a condition of statehood, a condition not required of other states, such as Texas.

“A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently declared that congress cannot change the ‘uniquely sovereign character of a state’s admission’ into the Union and that this proposition applies with even greater force where ‘virtually all of a State’s public lands are at stake.’  With trillions of dollars in mineral resources and millions of acres of our lands tied up by acts of congress, what is at stake is a $2 billion education funding gap and nearly $5 billion in federal funds to Utah that are seriously at risk from a fiscally reckless federal government,” said state Rep. Ken Ivory, chief sponsor of the bill. “After waiting 116 years, we simply can’t wait any longer for Washington to honor to Utah the same promise it made and kept with all states east of Colorado to transfer title the public lands in a timely fashion from being admitted into the Union.”

Gov. Herbert said, “This is only the first step in a long process, but it is a step we must take.  Federal control of our public lands puts Utah at a distinct disadvantage, specifically with regard to education funding. State and local property taxes cannot be levied on federal lands, and royalties and severance taxes are curtailed due to federal land use restrictions.  Federal control hampers our ability to adequately fund our public education system.”

Nevada passed a similar law in 1979 and it was signed by Gov. Bob List. The voters of Nevada approved an amendment to the state Constitution in 1996. In fact, in 1956 voters approved taxing federal land should Congress ever allow it.

But nothing has been done. The federal government today occupies somewhere between 83 and 92 percent of Nevada land, depending on which government resource you cite.

The Bureau of Land Management has spent seven years studying whether the Southern Nevada Water Authority — no matter whether you are for or against it — can acquire rights-of-way on BLM land for water wells and pipelines. Mining permits can take a decade to be approved or denied. Oil and gas leases are being denied over sage-grouse habitat without any explanation as to specifically why. Wind and solar projects — whatever you think of them — require years of expensive studies by legions of bureaucrats.

Why should the state have to beg the representatives and bureaucrats of the other 49 states to use its own land?

Equal footing, you think?

13 comments on “Sagebrush Rebellion: A futile gesture in the face of Washington bureaucracy?

  1. Bruce Feher says:

    A pipe dream! The Feds want to and in most cases do, control everything. The land of the free is a thing of the past!
    You can’t vote them out, you can’t use the courts because the are loaded with government types so, what do you do?
    I know and it’s not pretty….

  2. If Obama get four more and a SCOTUS appointment, it is all over but the shooting.


  3. Bruce Feher says:

    I have my ideas on that subject too. However, I’m not putting them in writing. FYI, my blog was hacked and I’ve taken it off the air until I figure out better security.
    My Twitter account was hacked on a daily basis, I’ve suspended that too. I understand the left has been attacking many conservative twiitter account and blogs.
    I am looking into it but in the mean time, be aware Tom

  4. Thanks, Bruce.


  5. Dave West says:

    I find it difficult to believe that 93% of congress voted for the NDAA for 2012 if in fact it authorizes detention of citizens as some claim it does. I also find it difficult to believe our Senior Military would violate Posse Comitatus since they have sworn to uphold the Constitution also. Not being well versed in the law I would like to hear from someone who is well versed and only minimally biased.

    If as Mr. Mitchell suggests that 4 more of OBAMA and a SCOTUS appointment will be our demise then I predict a Civil War in this country unless some mighty cool headed state leaders emerge quickly. Because of the Race Baiting by this administration it could also evolve into a race war although I think that’s the last thing the minority populations want.

    I prefer we settle this problem amicably. It is in everybody’s interest to do so.

  6. Is Forbes well versed and minimally biased enough for you Dave?


  7. Oh, Dave, the NDAA may not be your biggest worry. Check this out:


  8. Steve says:

    Its really nasty out there for sure.
    But think of this.
    The USA remains the leader in the world by far, economically and militarily.
    The dollar is, by choice, the worlds reserve currency and we are the only superpower.

    If we fall apart along the lines you all think it is heading it will be felt far more severely in the rest of the world and the powers that be know it.

    The USA has been in worse places in our history and has re invented itself several times.

    I think we will do so again.

  9. joe castellana says:


  10. We did, Joe, in 1996.

  11. […] Bill 148, the latest volley in the long-running skirmish known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. The bill demands the United States extinguish title to federally occupied lands — about two-thirds of the state […]

  12. […] it so often — and I have the links to prove it from this year alone here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here — that Derek Yonai’s piece in Sunday’s Viewpoints section of […]

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