DemocracyPolicing and Democracy

Is The Constitutional County Movement The Newest Threat To Democracy?

07.08.2024 Ella Wind, Director of Research

For several years now, the U.S. has witnessed a growing movement of county-level law enforcement officials who reject decisions made through the democratic process at the federal, state, and local levels by declaring sheriffs as the final arbiter of the laws of the land, even as they face some of the lowest democratic accountability of any elected positions. Public Wise has taken on the task of collecting data on this trend and analyzing it to determine the prevalence and spread of the Constitutional Counties movement.

Summary of Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. is witnessing a growing movement attempting a power grab at the county level of government.
  • This movement first focused on sheriffs claiming they had the right to decide which federal, state, and municipal laws to enforce based on their own interpretation of the Constitution.
  • This movement has spread to local government, with county commissions making similar claims about their right to decide what laws, particularly gun laws, can be enforced within their counties.
  • Based on in-depth data collection across 668 counties in nine battleground states, Public Wise determined that around a quarter of the counties we investigated now adhere to this movement, articulating a particularly concerning version of the idea that the county commission’s legislative positions overrule state and federal laws, subverting the established legal hierarchy inherent to our democratic system.
  • The push to allocate more powers to the county level of government – one of our least democratically accountable levels of elected government – threatens to further aggravate the problems of disproportionate rural representation already embedded in the DNA of the U.S. electoral system.