Newspaper column: Now Democrats find fault with visa program that Reid abused

Democrats are highly selective about the things that send them into high dudgeon.

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said this past week that Congress should end the EB-5 visa program that grants visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in job-creating projects in the U.S., calling it a “citizenship-for-sale” program.

Her umbrage was prompted by reports that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s sister mentioned the visa program to potential Chinese investors in a family-owned project.

Where was the outrage four years ago when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid twisted arms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking EB-5 visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory?

An ethics complaint was filed against Reid, then Senate Democratic majority leader, but it was buried in the bureaucracy.

The SLS built with foreign investment money (USA Today pix)

In fact, four days after that complaint was filed, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to become the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security. Mayorkas was the one who granted the visas after personally talking to Reid. The vote was 54-41. Had Reid not just nuked the Senate filibuster rules the nomination would have failed to achieve the previously required 60 votes.

Mayorkas was confirmed despite the fact he was under investigation at the time for expediting visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers.

Reid had made a personal call to Mayorkas in January 2013, according to the Washington Times, and Mayorkas promised him his agency would take a “fresh look” at the SLS hotel and casino visa request. Soon after that the agency expedited visas for about two dozen foreign SLS casino, formerly the Sahara, investors. The Times reported that Federal Election Commission records show executives for two companies involved in the hotel project had made $127,000 in political donations over the previous three elections, mostly to Democrats.

The ethics complaint by Cause of Action said, “Despite the fact that these applications were ineligible for appeal, Senator Reid’s efforts to lobby USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) resulted in the reconsideration and approval of those applications … Even more troublesome is the fact that Senator Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins P.C., are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel and Casino.”

The U.S. Senate Code of Official Conduct says: “The decision to provide assistance to petitioners may not be made on the basis of contributions or services, or promises of contributions or services, to the Member’s political campaigns or to other organizations in which the Member has a political, personal, or financial interest.”

Homeland’s Inspector General issued a report in March 2015 accusing Mayorkas of showing favoritism and providing special access to EB-5 visas for Democrats —  specifically Harry Reid, Terry McAuliffe and Anthony Rodham, brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Instead of attacking, as Democrats are doing with Trump’s kin, the Obama administration circled the wagons. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Mayorkas had been “impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy.” It wasn’t sluggish. The expedited visas were denied and that decision was, according to agency rules, not appealable.

Later an ICE agent who tried to block the SLS visas was fired. She refused to accept a $100,000 severance package that would have required non-disclosure and testified before Congress about the abuses of the EB-5 program. She later accepted an undisclosed settlement.

The agent testified that EB-5 visas were approved in as little as 16 days and “lacked basic necessary law enforcement” screening.

She told Congress: “In 2013, after disclosing gross mismanagement, waste and fraud that threatened the general public’s safety, National Security Risks and public corruption surrounding an EB-5 project, I was subjected to a significant amount of harassment and retaliation. … Some of the violations I was investigating surrounding this EB-5 project include Title 18 statues; Major Fraud, Money Laundering, Bank and Wire fraud. In addition, I had discovered ties to Organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared to have facilitat(ed) the EB-5 project.”

Back then nothing could be heard from Democrats over the chirping of crickets, but now Feinstein ruminates that it is “crystal clear that the EB-5 regional center program presents a stark conflict of interest for the Trump White House.”

Reid got a pass and a coverup, but Trump is not a fellow Democrat.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Cyberwarfare doesn’t quite make the front page, but inside …

North Korea at night with South Korea below, China to the left and Japan to the right.

The news items were pages apart and totally unrelated. Or were they?

On the cover of the morning newspaper is an AP account of North Korea successfully testing a nuclear-capable missile. The Seoul-datelined story opens: “North Korea on Monday boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of ‘medium long-range’ ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.” The rocket flew 490 miles

Inside the Nevada section there is an interview with the  commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. In it he talks about the role of Nellis, which includes discussion of the base’s cyberwarfare role. The “bird” colonel commented that an example of cyberwarfare would be “figuring out how, if our nation decided, we would take down the electrical grid in North Korea.”

The irony is that North Korea doesn’t have much of an electric grid to take down, but we do.

In fact a story at Townhall today talks about what could be used to take down our grid — electromagnetic pulse or EMP, which could be delivered by a solar flare or a high-altitude nuclear detonation, which could delivered from a ship or submarine less than 490 miles off either coast.

As we noted three years ago, Dr. Peter Pry testified before Congress  that an EMP event could wipe out 90 percent of America’s population.

“Natural EMP from a geomagnetic super-storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event or 1921 Railroad Storm, and nuclear EMP attack from terrorists or rogue states, as practiced by North Korea during the nuclear crisis of 2013, are both existential threats that could kill 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse,” he said.

There was a bill in the House, H.R. 3410, at the time that was intended to start the relatively inexpensive process of hardening the nation’s grid against such an attack. Nevada Rep. Joe Heck was a co-sponsor. It passed the House in December 2014 and has since languished, apparently for a lack of urgency in the Senate and White House.

I have been writing about this topic since 1980 to no avail.

Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., who introduced H.R. 3410 in October 2013, said three years ago “every single facet of modern human life” would be “crippled” by an EMP event. “It strikes at my very core when I think of the men, women, and children in cities and rural towns across America with a possibility of no access to food, water, or transportation,” he said. “In a matter of weeks or months at most, a worst-case scenario could bring devastation beyond imagination.”

The cost to do this grid work has been placed at somewhere between a half a billion dollars and a couple of billion. Washington spends three times that in one minute.

The headline on that Townhall story reads: “Tick, Tock: EMP War Looms.”

Here is an excerpt from that story by Katie Kieffer:

A unique menace in that it can occur naturally (via a geomagnetic storm) or by man (via the high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon), EMP is a rapid acceleration of particles that creates a high-power burst of electromagnetic energy.

55 years ago, during the Cold War, the United States experienced an accidental EMP blast when the JFK administration tested a 1.4-megaton nuclear warhead 250 miles above Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The test, Operation Starfish Prime, malfunctioned. Traffic lights 850 miles away in Hawaii immediately went out, six satellites above the Pacific died, and radio networks were disrupted in Alaska, Hawaii and California.

Starfish Prime was a powerful warning — had we listened. Unfortunately, today our country is virtually defenseless against an EMP attack. Furthermore, the ramifications of an EMP attack in 2017 are far greater than in 1962 due to the proliferation of grid-dependent smartphones, computers, cars, medical facilities, financial institutions and food distribution channels. Even our military is far more electricity-dependent.

“Electricity could be out for months or years because the grid would need to be assembled completely anew since its components would melt,” EMP expert Avi Schurr told NATO. Hospitals, banks, and grocery stores would be unable to function for months — and possibly permanently. Without power or communications systems, chaos would erupt and tens of millions of Americans would die.

The good news? We know how to prevent an EMP attack—and with a relatively modest monetary investment.

The bad news? More than any president in U.S. history, Barack Obama had unique congressional studies at his fingertips alerting him to the danger of an EMP attack, plus manifold prevention recommendations from the congressional EMP Commission. Yet Obama only took steps to weaken America’s already-anemic defenses.

Col. Paul J. Murray, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, discusses cyberwarfare (R-J photo by Keith Rogers)

 

Newspaper column: Democratic lawmakers trying to ration free speech

Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers in Carson City are seeking to enforce their egalitarian philosophy on everyone: All people are equal and deserve equal rights — and only equal amounts of those rights. You have the right to free speech, but no more than anyone else.

This past week an Assembly committee heard testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 4, which would urge Congress to amend the Constitution to strike the free speech portion of the First Amendment. SJR4, sponsored by Las Vegas Democratic state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, would erase the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that it was unconstitutional to forbid the broadcast of a movie critical of then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just because it was paid for by a corporation.

But SJR4 goes even further. It limits spending by individuals as well. The summary reads: “Urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to allow the reasonable regulation of political contributions and expenditures by corporations, unions and individuals to protect the integrity of elections and the equal right of all Americans to effective representation.”

It basically declares democracy is dead because the citizens are too stupid to hear vigorous and boisterous debate and make rational decisions.

The resolution argues that large political donations corrupt candidates and dilute the power of individuals. Pay no heed to the fact that in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one — $600 million to $1.2 billion.

The resolution would not only overturn Citizens United but also McCutcheon v. FEC.

Democrats think all money belongs to the state except what the state allows you to keep, and now they demand to take control of how you spend that.

In addressing an Assembly committee on her bill Cannizzaro said it “addresses a growing and rather troubling influence of large donations by corporations and other organizations in our sacred policymaking process as a result of significant and uncontrolled political contributions.”

Jeff Clements, president of American Promise, an organization pressing for such a constitutional amendment, testified to the Assembly committee by phone.

He said we need to get back our constitutional foundation that “really has gone back in a non-partisan and cross-partisan way for over a century. It is not to say there is anything bad about corporations and unions or the very, very wealthy … If we allow unlimited deployment of the financial resources from those and other sources, it overwhelms the rights we have as Americans and the duties we have to participate in our self-governing republic, as equal citizens with equal representation.”

He argued that politics is not a marketplace to be bought and sold.

Yes, it is a marketplace — one of ideas. But no matter how much someone spends trying to persuade us to buy, we don’t have to buy.

As for it being a non-partisan issue as Clements claimed, the vote on SJR4 in the state Senate was on a party-line vote of 12 Democrats for and nine Republicans against.

Let’s hear what the court had to say about free speech in McCutcheon: “The Government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance. We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the Government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

In Citizens United, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “The (First) Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is ‘speech’ covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise. A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate is core political speech, and its nature as such does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the ‘inherent worth of the speech’ and ‘its capacity for informing the public,’ … Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy.”

I’ll put those words up against the Democrats’ bleating about money corrupting.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Yucca Mountain in Nye County

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

“Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”

Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Jim Day cartoon

Newspaper column: State makes some progress in challenging sage grouse rules

Greater sage grouse (BLM photo)

Nevada won a temporary reprieve from the Interior Department’s plans to enforce sweeping restrictions on land use as a means of protecting greater sage grouse habitat, but failed to convince a federal judge to put those plans on hold entirely.

In a recent opinion, Nevada federal Judge Miranda Du ruled Interior agencies erred in preparing environmental impact statements for 2.8 million acres of land primarily in Eureka and Humboldt counties and must prepare a supplemental statement, but she denied a request to issue an injunction that would have blocked the federal land agencies from implementing burdensome resource management plans. (Du opinion)

The suit was brought by the state of Nevada, nine counties, several mining companies and a ranch.

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who filed the suit on behalf of the state, said of Du’s ruling, “The federal government’s greater sage-grouse land-use plan obstructs Nevada’s growth and development, and harms our ranchers, miners and recreation workers. The court’s decision demonstrates the importance of the state joining this lawsuit, which affords us the opportunity to represent Nevada’s interests in court and at the negotiating table. We are encouraged by the fact that the court accepted our argument that the greater sage-grouse plan was fatally flawed in one of its central respects — namely, the court’s finding that the sagebrush focal areas violated that National Environmental Policy Act. We will continue to study the opinion and evaluate next steps.”

In denying the sweeping injunction, Du fell back on an old Catch-22 that has foiled other challenges to federal public land policies, saying there has been no “final agency action” and therefore the legal challenge is not ripe. The problem with that is the agencies never take final action, because they deem every decision to be appealable and changeable at some point in the future even though their current enforcement is already hampering economic development.

In the past the order to rework the environmental impact paperwork would have been a futile gesture because the final outcome under the Obama administration would have ended in the same paperwork, but President Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might make a difference. As a Montana congressman Zinke strongly opposed the Obama administration plan to protect the grouse without formally listing it under the Endangered Species Act.

At a 2015 hearing, he asked why “would Washington, the bureaucracy, given there are no sage grouse here … decide what is best for Montana or the western states, that have a deep, traditional concern for wildlife management?”

Just a month ago, Zinke told a gathering of Western ranchers that the Interior Department “hasn’t been the best neighbor,” adding that they would probably like changes he is planning for those sage grouse protection plans.

“We’re going to manage our properties just like you [ranchers] would manage your private lands,” Zinke said, according to published reports. “Washington, D.C., needs to understand that we work for the people, not the other way around.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service must rework their maps because they were severely flawed.

Judge Du noted, for example, that in Eureka County the agencies “incorrectly designated the town of Eureka, US Highway 50, State Route 278, County landfill, power lines, multiple subdivisions of homes, farms with alfalfa field and irrigations systems, and hay barns” as priority habitat management areas for grouse.

There is much at stake for Nevada and the other Western states facing land use restrictions for mining, grazing, oil and gas exploration, recreation and other beneficial uses.

In Humboldt, Judge Du noted that livestock grazing would be reduced by 25 percent. The county’s landfill also was labeled priority habitat.

The Interior’s sage grouse draft environmental impact statement for just Nevada and five other states issued in December estimated that its proposed restrictions would reduce economic output in Nevada each year by $373.5 million, cost $11.3 million in lost state and local tax revenue and reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

For the 20-year life of the land restrictions, the six states would lose $16 billion in economic output and 38,700 jobs, as well as $520 million in tax revenue.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Bill could dilute Nevada’s presidential voting power

There is a bill pending in the Legislature that could have the effect of diluting the state’s voting power in presidential elections.

Assembly Bill 274 would rope Nevada into a compact called the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” Instead of awarding Nevada’s six electoral votes — one for each representative and senator in Congress — according to how Nevadans vote, those six electoral voters would be awarded to the president and vice president team that wins the popular vote nationally.

This essentially cuts Nevada’s votes from six to four, since the votes nationwide would be proportional to population and exclude the power of our two senators.

The change would take place when enough states join the compact to constitute a majority of electoral votes, which is 270 of the 538 electoral votes. Thus far enough states have signed on to constitute about 165 electoral votes. But because it is a compact, Congress would have to agree to it as well.

The Constitution leaves it up to each state’s Legislature to decide how to award its electoral votes. Currently all but two states — Maine and Nebraska — award all their electoral votes to the statewide winner. Maine and Nebraska award two electoral votes — equal to the number of its senators — to the statewide winner, but award one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district.

AB274 went before the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections recently.

Scott Drexel, one of the backers of the popular vote compact, told lawmakers, “The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The short comings of the current system of electing the president stem from state winner-take-all statutes, that is state laws that award all electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in each separate state. The winner-take-all rule has permitted five of our 45 presidents to come into office without having won the most popular votes nationwide.”

Popular vote advocate Saul Anuzis argued before the committee that the current system results in candidates concentrating their campaigns in so-called battleground states instead of trying to sway the most voters nationally.

In response, Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks noted that in 2016 Nevada was indeed a battleground state. He pointed out Nevadans donated $6.7 million to presidential campaigns, but those campaigns spent $55 million in Nevada, netting substantial revenues for state media outlets and other businesses.

But Anuzis suggested that Nevada may be a fleeting battleground state. It has supported Democrats in the past three presidential elections and backed Bill Clinton twice before siding with George W. Bush twice.

Yes, Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than Donald Trump, but he won more state electors, which is what the Founders envisioned. (Trump won the Electoral College vote by 304 to 227. Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million. She won California by 4 million votes. So Trump won the combined popular vote in the rest of the nation.)

Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has joined the fray, calling the Electoral College undemocratic.

“I believe that focusing on the Electoral College is important no matter how you do it, because what’s happened this decade, these last several elections, where we have clearly two elections, the Gore election and this election. In this election Hillary Clinton will wind up getting almost 3 million votes more than Trump. It’s time the system goes away. It is very undemocratic,” Reid said in an interview.

Pay no attention to the fact Reid served in the Senate for 30 years, where each state gets two votes no matter the size of its population. Most undemocratic.

The Founders established the nation on a federalist system, not a democracy. Certain enumerated powers were assigned the federal government while the rest were reserved to the states and the people. That is why they created the Senate and — until 1913’s 17th Amendment — had state Legislatures pick their senators. That is why the Electoral College gives added weight to smaller states.

If Nevada wishes to assure greater attention and provide a chance for candidates to win votes here, we could adopt a system like that in Maine and Nebraska.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Why Nevada joined a Wisconsin property rights case

Murr family cabin on St. Croix River (Eau Claire Leader-Tribune)

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a rather obscure and complicated property case titled Murr v. Wisconsin, in which the Murr family claims the value of their waterfront property was drastically reduced by government regulations.

The Murrs argued the regulation essentially reduced the value of their property and the government should compensate them under the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause, which dictates that no private property may be “taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Four Murr siblings own two adjacent waterfront lots on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin that their parents purchased in the 1960s. One has a cabin and one is vacant land. Since the purchase the zoning laws were changed to require larger lots, but existing ones were grandfathered.

But when the Murrs tried to sell one lot for $400,000, its appraised value, so they could improve the cabin, they were told the lots were merged and the vacant lot could not be sold separately, due to the land being a “parcel as a whole.”  The county offered to settle for $40,000.

So why would Nevada take the lead in filing a friend of the court brief for itself and eight other states on behalf of the Murrs to challenge Wisconsin zoning law?

Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, said in a recent Washington Post commentary that he co-authored the brief on behalf of Nevada’s attorney general and the other states because the outcome of this case will have a lasting and potentially damaging impact on states with large federal land holdings.

“This is a particular danger for Nevada and other western states, where the federal government has a massive presence and often seeks to restrict the use of state-owned lands that abut its own,” Somin wrote.

The brief itself — singed by Somin, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke argues: “Endorsing the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’s broad interpretation of the ‘parcel as a whole’ rule will expand the federal government’s regulatory control over state land and limit the circumstances in which just compensation might be paid. States often own thousands of acres of contiguous parcels and the federal government could avoid a taking simply by aggregating large swaths of a state as part of the takings denominator. Under such a calculation, few if any federal regulations of state property — regardless how onerous — would be ruled compensable takings.”

The brief notes that in Nevada the Bureau of Land Management alone controls 47.5 million acres or about 63 percent of the state.

“Taken to its logical extreme, the federal government could enact a federal regulation, under some pretense, that barred all or most development on all property owned by Nevada in Lincoln County,” the brief notes. “The federal government could argue that this regulation did not constitute a taking because, when all contiguous state-owned parcels in Clark, White Pine, and Nye Counties are aggregated, Nevada would still retain some beneficial use of its state land.”

In a press release sent out when Nevada filed the brief on behalf of the nine states, Laxalt stated that “our nation’s Founders wisely created the Fifth Amendment to protect property owners from uncompensated takings, and my Office will continue to defend Nevadan’s rights — including their property rights —  whenever the government oversteps its bounds. In Nevada, more than 80% of land is already owned by the federal government, and the new rule proposed in the Murr case would only increase its ability to take state and private land without just compensation. As our brief explains, this new rule places more burdens on property owners and could disrupt how property owners normally use their property in ways that benefit society. An unfavorable ruling in this case will impact not only the Murr family in Wisconsin, but other landowners across the country including here in Nevada.”

The friend of the court brief concludes, “Should the ‘parcel as a whole’ rule be expanded to include contiguous parcels under common ownership, government officials will often have little reason to worry about paying compensation, and will therefore have incentives to ignore the harm caused by their regulations …”

After oral arguments Somin wrote that he fears the court might embrace some muddled complex balancing test that leave property rights in jeopardy, but there is a chance the court could split 4-4 opening the opportunity for a rehearing after Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, assuming he is.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.