MINOT, N.D. — The law, even laws that are very stupid, should be enforced.
That's a philosophy I've believed in for some time now, and there are two excellent reasons for believing it.
First, we should be governed by laws, not people. This is the idea upon which the American system of government is built. We choose people to make the laws and the process by which we make the laws, and we choose people to enforce the laws, but ultimately we are governed by the laws themselves. Not the people.
This is an important distinction because the alternative to the rule of law is the rule of man, which is essentially just monarchy or other forms of despotism in which a singular ruler, or ruling group, decides what the law is at any given moment.
Second, the best antidote for moronic policymaking is to make everyone abide by its outcomes. Democracy is a wonderful form of government, but one of its great weaknesses is that imbeciles frequently find their way into positions of power.
I'm a proponent of voters getting what they voted for, good and hard.
Make them face the consequences of how they voted, and perhaps they'll choose better next time. That cause-and-effect relationship between votes and consequences breaks down if we get choose-your-own-adventure enforcement of the law.
Which brings us to the question of North Dakota's new mask mandate and the growing chorus of law enforcement officials who are indicating that they're not very interested in enforcing it.
This has been communicated by some law enforcement departments across the state, with varying degrees of clarity, but McKenzie County Sheriff Matthew Johansen has perhaps been most direct. “As Sheriff, I believe the Constitution and Declaration of Independence say it best that we should each be free to govern ourselves as a state and as a nation,” he wrote in a letter reported by the Williston Herald. “To that accord this mandate is not a law that we have passed or desired to see passed. With that established the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing any such mandate.”
Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah Warner was similarly blunt: "Hettinger County Sheriff's Office will not be enforcing mask mandates and mandates on businesses with citations," she said in a statement. "This is a health issue and should not be turned into a criminal issue."
This is inappropriate.
If these sheriffs, or any of their colleagues in law enforcement, feel they cannot enforce the State of North Dakota's law, they should resign, or perhaps seek relief through the courts, which is the venue established in our government for settling disputes over the law.
It's one thing to follow the advice of Gov. Doug Burgum's administration and use enforcement on mask dissenters only as a last resort. We ask law enforcement to use their discretion all the time. Just a couple of weeks ago, an officer in Minot pulled me over because one of my tail lights was out.
He could have ticketed me. Instead, I got a warning.
It's another thing entirely to say, as a law enforcement officer, that you're going to ignore the law.
This isn't about whether you agree with masking or North Dakota's mask mandate.
It's about whether you want to be ruled by the law or by people who can decide what the law is (or is not) at any given moment.
I don't like North Dakota's mask mandate (though I wouldn't call it moronic). I wish it weren't necessary. In previous months, I wish more North Dakotans had chosen to mask up and exercise other steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.
We didn't, so our policymakers reacted with policy to address a burgeoning public health quagmire, and it's not the job of law enforcement to roadblock that policy.
I know many conservatives are rooting these law enforcement officials on as they push back against the masking order, but be careful what you wish for, my friends. The next time the cops choose to ignore the law, it may not cut toward your preferred outcome.
If you don't like the mask mandate, pursue a change through the political process. Or the courts, if you feel it's appropriate. Just don't support law enforcement officers who pick and choose which laws to enforce.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.