By Alex Newman
Lawmakers in a conservative western New York county voted unanimously late last month to become a “constitutional sanctuary” where the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights will be protected. Even the lone Democrat legislator voted in favor of the measure.
Under the legislation, Cattaraugus County declared itself to be a “Constitutional County, unwavering in its commitment to protect the constitutional rights of its citizens.”
As part of that, the county legislature vowed to use “all legal means at its disposal” to oppose unconstitutional efforts to infringe on the rights of citizens, whether those attacks come from the federal or state level. Gun rights in particular received special treatment.
Among other elements, the measure declares that no county employees, public money, resources, or buildings would be used to infringe on the rights of citizens or to help other levels of government enforce such unconstitutional restrictions.
Even the county’s mission statement was updated to pay homage to the Constitution and declare the legislature’s vision of protecting its constituents from “excessive and oppressive” governmental mandates.
“If state or federal government continue to overstep their bounds and intrude into the lives of our citizens with unconstitutional mandates, our legislature will step up and challenge that,” said Cattaraugus County Legislator Ginger Schroder, an attorney in private practice who drafted and pushed the resolution in response to pressure from the community.
In a phone interview with The Epoch Times, Schroder said constituents in her county were fed up with what they view as the increasingly extreme abuses and violations of the Constitution coming from Albany and Washington, D.C.
During the CCP virus pandemic, for example, state lawmakers and even courts “allowed all power to be assumed by an autocrat—and not a benign autocrat,” explained Schroder, referring to recently departed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“It was devastating to our community,” she continued, “and that’s why we decided we simply had to do something about this.”
According to Schroder, the time has come for Americans and their elected officials to resist.
“I’m even willing to engage in civil disobedience,” she declared. “Sometimes you have to stand up to government. That’s what our forefathers did. If there’s an unconstitutional mandate that comes down, I may choose not to comply with that, and I’ve encouraged others to do so as well.”
Protecting Gun Rights and More
In the resolution, all of the county legislators reiterated their intent to protect the enumerated rights of citizens including, but not limited to, “rights to freedom of expression, speech, association, religion, press and petition, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protection of person and property from government overreach and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
The act also vows to protect rights not listed in the Constitution, as stipulated in the 9th amendment.
Concerns over escalating infringements on gun rights were a primary motivation behind the measure, multiple legislators from the county told The Epoch Times.
The resolution makes that clear too. “The Cattaraugus County Legislature wishes to express its profound commitment to the rights of all citizens of Cattaraugus County to keep and bear arms and proclaim that it is determined to stand as a Constitutional County that recognizes, respects and upholds Second Amendment rights,” the measure states.
Additionally, the county legislature vowed to “use all legal means at its disposal to oppose, within the limits of the Constitution of the United States and the Civil Rights Law of the State of New York, any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights in order to assure that its citizens will be able to keep and bear arms and use the same in defense of life, liberty and property, whether in a well-regulated militia, or individually.”
The Big Picture: Dark Times Ahead
But while the right to keep and bear arms was a key motivation behind the move, it was hardly the only right the lawmakers had in mind.
“We were hearing from a lot of our constituents about how unhappy they were with state and federal government, and that government no longer respects the founding principles our government was based on,” explained Schroder, who received a standing ovation after an impassioned speech in support of the measure.
“We wanted to let our people know that we have their back and we’re going to stand up for their rights,” she added in the interview with The Epoch Times.
Among the concerns she highlighted were COVID mandates, the eviction moratorium that was recently struck down as unconstitutional, “vindictive” efforts by state officials to target those who resist, vaccine mandates being imposed on so many categories of people, attacks on the rights to free speech and assembly, and many more.
“We are headed toward very dark times, and that was all in the backdrop in my thinking about what we as legislators need to do,” Schroder continued, praising state government in Florida while lambasting New York’s state government.
The local grassroots group “We The People” and its regular letters to legislators were instrumental in getting the measure drafted and passed, she said.
Citizens were overwhelmingly supportive, with Schroder receiving just one negative phone call from a woman upset that people were not wearing face masks at the county legislature’s meeting.
New and Expanded Mission for County Government
One key element of the resolution noted that the current mission statement on the county’s website failed to recognize the county legislature’s “Constitutional, historic, and rightful” role of serving as a check on local executive and judicial power, and even as a check on the state government itself.
The previous mission statement also failed to point out the legislature’s role as the voice of the people of Cattaraugus County and a “guarantor of their liberties,” the measure declared.
As such, the new mission statement adopted under the resolution included significant changes. “The goal of the Cattaraugus County Government is to support and respect the Constitution of the United States of America and its amendments,” the newly adopted version of the county’s mission statement starts off.
The mission statement continues: “Also, it is to establish an environment in which the citizens of Cattaraugus County can pursue life, liberty, and happiness unencumbered by excessive and oppressive governmental mandates and intrusions into their day-to-day lives. The goal of the government of this County is to uphold the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The County Legislature recognizes that governments in the United States of America—at all levels—are to be restrained and limited and that the power of government resides in the people.”
The role of the legislature as the protector of the people’s rights is enshrined in the new version, too.
“The Legislature stands as a protector between the citizens of this County and the tendency of governments at state and federal levels to advance into territory not their own and consume, rather than secure, the liberties endowed to the people by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” the new mission statement declares, echoing similar measures being adopted and considered nationwide. “The County’s guide and standard will be the Constitution of the United States and the Founding Documents upon which our Nation, our State, and the local communities of Cattaraugus County are built.”
Chairman and Vice Chairman Agree: Constitution is Key
In an interview with The Epoch Times, County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer explained that citizens from across the county have become increasingly concerned about the direction of state and federal authorities.
“They asked to be assured that their constitutional rights will be protected, so our legislature decided to go forward and pass this,” the chairman said. “Basically, they don’t want their rights taken away as it relates to the Constitution and we are going to honor that.”
While it is too early to tell what effect the measure may have, VanRensselaer said it would become clearer as time went on.
In the meantime, he said legislators hope it will increase public awareness and let government agencies know where the people of Cattaraugus County stand.
VanRensselaer, who represents District 4 in the county and lives in the town of Randolph, said he hoped the measure would encourage other policymakers across the state and beyond to consider similar constitutional resolutions protecting their jurisdictions.
One thing is clear: The public is fired up. “We’ve had tons of emails and phone calls, all positive,” he said. “Not a single person I’ve talked to has expressed opposition. All of the legislators have been receiving phone calls and emails daily, especially after it was passed. There are so many emails coming in thanking us for doing this to protect the people.”
When asked why he thought becoming a “constitutional county” was necessary, County Legislature Vice Chairman Andy Burr, another key player in getting the measure passed, echoed the chairman, but was even more blunt.
“Because we live in New York State,” he said.
Among other concerns expressed by the public and his fellow legislators, Burr warned that state authorities had become increasingly hostile to gun rights. CCP virus mandates, meanwhile, have decimated many small businesses. The vaccine mandates with no religious exemptions have stirred widespread opposition, too, Burr explained.
“It’s scandalous what’s going on in this state,” he added, expressing hope that Cattaraugus County’s stand would embolden people and encourage other counties to take similar action.
Support from the public for standing on the Constitution is “very robust,” Burr said, noting that everyone he has spoken with so far firmly supports the “constitutional county” concept.
Cattaraugus County is very conservative, he said. In the last election, the legislature went from having 12 out of 17 seats occupied by Republicans to having 16 out of 17 filled by GOP legislators.
“Taking a knee and social justice does not play well here,” Burr said. “We believe in getting up and going to work. We believe in not whining about things, but in doing things to make it better.”
Legislator David Koch, the only Democrat currently serving in the county legislature, also voted for the measure, though fellow lawmakers said it was a reluctant yes vote. Koch did not respond to e-mails and phone calls requesting comment by press time.
State and National Efforts Growing
Resistance to state and federal policies perceived to be unconstitutional is nothing new, even in New York.
In 2013, 52 out of 62 counties in New York passed resolutions against gun control following the passage of strict measures adopted in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, according to an analysis published by Pew Charitable Trust.
Responding to public pressure and perceived constitutional obligations, more than a few sheriffs across the state and beyond have also vowed not to enforce new gun-control measures.
Indeed, many states have become “sanctuaries” for gun rights, with laws aimed at nullifying federal gun-control efforts proliferating in conservative jurisdictions nationwide.
More liberal jurisdictions, by contrast, have focused on nullifying federal marijuana laws, immigration controls, and other policies.
The history of nullification goes back all the way to America’s Founding Fathers, some of whom worked to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts not longer after the Constitution went into effect. Anti-slave states such as Wisconsin later nullified federal statutes such as the Fugitive Slave Act.
The Cattaraugus measure from last week, which was inspired by homegrown grassroots activists and members of the community, comes amid a fresh wave of local, county, and state resistance to perceived attacks on gun rights and other constitutionally protected freedoms.
As reported by The Epoch Times in June, two counties in Nevada approved measures declaring themselves “Constitutional Counties” in which any effort to infringe on constitutional rights will be treated as “criminal activity” — even if done by state or federal officials.
As part of that effort, the two counties also joined the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), a nationwide organization of lawmen dedicated to educating sheriffs on their constitutional role as protectors of the rights of their constituents.
“This is the peaceful and effective solution millions of Americans have been praying for to take back America county by county and state by state,” CSPOA Founder Sheriff Richard Mack (Retired), who won a landmark victory at the Supreme Court against the federal government, told The Epoch Times at the time.
When contacted by phone for comment on the new measure in Cattaraugus County, New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office requested an e-mail. The governor’s press office did not respond to the email by press time.